While looking at Ivan Reitman’s films, I noticed Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters, and I immediately thought of Bill Murray. The first two might not be great films, but I think Bill Murray is wonderful in them. He has his own brand of zanziness and larger-than-life quality that I find unique and appealing. I haven’t seen a lot his recent films, but these roles make me wonder if he belongs among the great comedic actors. I certainly prefer him in comedic roles than dramatic ones—where I find his range limited and his acting within that range to be…well, limited, too.
Where do other people stand on Murray? What are some of his best performances? Do you think he’s a better comedic or dramatic actor?
“Cat and dogs living together. Mass hysteria!” Love it.
So let’s hear some of the great dramatic performances and anything that might make me reconsider.
For one thing, he’s my favorite film Polonius so far. And, this should come as no surprise, I don’t think the distinction made between comedian and actor is that useful. What is a comedy performance in a film if not acting?
Polonius? I never heard of it.
I’m sorry. What I’m making a distinction between his comedic roles and his dramatic (or at least more dramatic) ones. For the latter, I’m thinking of something like Lost in Translation
<3<3<3 murray. he’s usually the best thing in wes anderson’s pictures too. and the only good thing in zombieland
Ah, I see, I wasn’t sure if you somehow were suggesting that comedic acting isn’t as meaningful as dramatic acting. Regarding Murray, i would suggest that one of the things that makes him effective, for those of us who find him so, is that there is an undercurrent of a sort of wry humor or melancholy that works into what is understood as traditionally dramatic work. By that I mean that, for some of us, there is a feeling of a sort of lightness in spirit or attitude that is being constrained or worked against in his reading of characters in many of his later roles where the character then exists sort of between the implied poles of the dramatic or comedic, becoming more bittersweet or wistful in tone basically
He is probably a better comedian i think. I like him as a serious actor, but he has zero range.
I think he took that kind of minimal ‘bittersweet’ sad sack approach to its logical extreme in ‘Broken Flowers’.
Can’t see him going too much further with it personally.
Well Joks, i would argue that Murray’s persona is as adaptable as most others as I don’t think having a some feel for both worlds is any more limiting than being stuck in one or the other. Murray’s performance’s all come from Murray, so there is some similarities between them just like there is for all actors, but his particular manner, by being somewhat unique seeming, is seen as being somehow lesser for that when I don’t think this is really the case as his characters, to me, do feel distinct. To my mind there are just different sorts of layers of representation that people are responding to, where the outmost layer, which is more immediately dramatic is often celebrated as the most significant.
I find the sad, wistful, bittersweet qualities that he tries to convey unconvincing, although it sort of worked in Broken Flowers. When he’s operating in this mode, he just seems more tired and lacking vitality—as if he no longer has the energy or enthusiasm to act. That’s partly the sense I get. Mostly, the wistful, sad quality doesn’t feel real or of much substance.
I’ll give you an example, and it’s not exactly related to what I’m talking about, but I’m thinking of the scene in Groundhog Day, when he tries to save the life of the drunk guy, who dies every day. Murray’s character is supposed to be in anguish, and I found his performance to be utterly unconvincing.
I think his zany, silly and larger-than-life persona may work against these type of scenes—i.e., they prevent me from completely buying it.
I’d call it impassivity.
“. When he’s operating in this mode, he just seems more tired and lacking vitality—as if he no longer has the energy or enthusiasm to act.”
Yeah, it feels more like middle age burnout, which is often the characters he is playing. but it just feels really obvious to me. his performances lack ambiguity. it’s just the same note over and over. then again, that could be the simple material he is generally working with.
however, i think it was effective in Rushmore and Broken Flowers. less so in Lost In Translation to me, but then that entire movie was lightweight ;-)
Good pair of stills, Matt.
I tend to think that I not much of a fan of Murray, but then I do appreciate a lot of his roles. So it is like he keeps doing better than I think he does.
Interesting. In that I tend to respond well to that sort of inbetween quality a lot more than a lot of more outwardly dramatic styles of behavior many actors use. Murray doesn’t “signal” a feeling as obviously as someone like Pacino say, but that doesn’t suggest that either Pacino’s more brash performances are any less tied to Pacino’s persona/style than Murray’s is to his, or that Murray somehow provides less depth to those of us who appreciate him than Pacino does. Not to say the two actors could play each other’s roles, or that there aren’t limits to the possible effective uses to each, but that, for me, the actor is tied to the persona and thus the context provided by the film will then help suggest variations which the actors will then work variations on their personas in to provide further depth. This does, of course, require that the viewer have some empathy for the actor and/or their persona for those variations to be seen, just as familiarity with a director’s work can help to better relate to variations in their films.
Edit: Now I can just sit and wait for Robert to jump in and “widgetize” this argument/thread…
In that I tend to respond well to that sort of inbetween quality a lot more than a lot of more outwardly dramatic styles of behavior many actors use.
But you’re not saying that all “inbetween” type of performances work for you, right? Subtlety is generally a hallmark of a good dramatic performance—and it’s something I prefer—but there’s a difference between subtle acting and lifeless and unconvincing ones, imo. Sometimes a tired performance is appropriate for a role and it works well. For example, I think Paul Newman gives such a performance in Nobody’s Fool—and I think it works completely.
No, I’m saying I think Murray generally does a very good job with the roles I’ve seen him undertake, which partly speaks to the roles and largely speaks to his particular persona and talents. Yeas, there is a difference between subtle and lifeless, but I would question, in this case, whether that difference is in the performance or in the viewing of it since we obviously disagree here.
And, to Matt’s point, yes, impassivity is another element in the mix as well. Trying to pin it to one element wasn’t the thing as much as suggesting a sort of tonal quality.
Well, I would point out that at least some of the time—in Broken Flowers and Lost in Translation (Jarmusch in particular cultivates this sort of thing in his films), for example—the sort of thing Jazz is describing I would say is intended to be part of the characters’ personalities, not strictly something Murray brought via acting, so the laconic, semi-somnambulant quality is entirely appropriate to the character and the film.
^^Sure but i think Jazz is questioning whether it’s actually effective, not if it’s appropriate.
it’s most certainly appropriate in Jamusch’s universe.
The only other way to get at “effective,” though, would be to start plugging in other hypotheticals.
Back in the day he was brilliant on SNL and you could see he was going places among alotta talented comedians. His zany movies were always fun, but kinda slight as far as acting ability, I don’t rate him very highly. But I still loved his turn as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson in WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM, even if the film itself wasn’t great. Really good, but not great. And how about THE RAZOR’S EDGE? Trademark deadpan Murray 20 years before he did the same thing in LOST IN TRANSLATION.
“Murray’s character is supposed to be in anguish, and I found his performance to be utterly unconvincing.”
I dunno if he’s anguished throughout GROUNDHOG DAY or simply resigned to his fate. Actually, lost in ennui is a pretty good description of most of Murray’s roles, and I think he’s pretty good at it. But it does get repetitive.
edit – I couldn’t stand LOST IN TRANSLATION by the way. Stereotypical jokes about the Japanese got really old and simply showed how shallow Sophia Coppola must be. Here’s an enlightening review from The Guardian from 2004.
“But it’s the way Japanese characters are represented that gives the game away. There is no scene where the Japanese are afforded a shred of dignity. The viewer is sledgehammered into laughing at these small, yellow people and their funny ways, desperately aping the western lifestyle without knowledge of its real meaning.”
he was a good broad comedian
now he is a good subtle actor
one of those shifts I have not seen much before.
I think Murray can act, or at least he understands how to NOT act. He has a strange face that when expressionless still “expresses”. He is great in Wes Anderson films, because Wes Anderson often uses expressive and vivid set design and costuming in comic (meaningful?) contrast to the rather dead pan, laconic performances of his actors. (I think Life Aquatic is one of Murray’s best performances. And I would call it acting as opposed to a comedian working his craft)
I think the Murray Shakespeare clip above is not too good though. But then I have never been convinced by overly casual Shakespeare. To perform heightened language in a naturalistic fashion rarely works to me. I am a crass hot dog eating American, so perhaps I am just intimidated by British accents, but I prefer Shakespeare performed like Gandalf performs it, even though I think that if I saw the below performance in anything but Shakespeare I would say “too much, too much” . go Gandalf!:
Only seen him act, so can’t comment on his as a comedian.
Bill Murray is a great “feel-good” actor. There’s something endearing about his presence that strikes a chord with me.
I found Lost In Translation to be a fantastic film, by the way, and I certainly wasn’t “sledgehammered” into anything while watching it, let alone “laughing at these small, yellow people and their funny ways”. How anyone could get that feeling is beyond me.
I definitely think he’s both. In the 80s comedians he could carry a film without even trying. Scrooged is really, really bad, I think, but he makes it watchable single-handed. I love all his career choices in the 90s and 00s as well. I think Rushmore is his best performance. Subtle but heartbreaking.
He’s a legend for goodness cakes!
Yeas, there is a difference between subtle and lifeless, but I would question, in this case, whether that difference is in the performance or in the viewing of it since we obviously disagree here.
I would say that the difference is in the viewing or perception of the performance. Can you go beyond your viewing to get at the performance? (I"m not sure I understand what that would even mean.)
I don’t get this. If you find a performance unconvincing can you only feel that way by using hypotheticals? Do we really have to bring in hypotheticals to express that performances didn’t work?
I dunno if he’s anguished throughout GROUNDHOG DAY…
I was mostly referring to that specific scene (i.e., Murray’s character trying revive the homeless guy). But now that you bring up the entire film, I think the dramatic aspects of the film—specifically the characters transformation and enlightenment—didn’t work so well because of Murray’s limited dramatic skills.