The Caddyshack actor's recent films have been downright gloomy. Why he should lighten up—for his sake as well as ours.
Dear Bill Murray,
Most open letters to famous people aren't real. They aren't actually intended for the celebrity being addressed. This one is. This is no writerly premise. This is a genuine, heartfelt attempt to communicate with you, Bill Murray—entertainment icon, Cubs fan, national treasure.
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Granted, this might be an unusual way to get in touch with a movie star. Can you blame us? You revel in your well-earned reputation for being a hard man to find, Bill. It's a wonder the National Board of Review got you to speak at their recent awards ceremony in honor of Sofia Coppola, your Lost in Translation director.
In that exceptionally well-received speech, a few phrases stuck out. Like when you said that awards exist to give their recipients an emotional boost. Giving someone an award, you said, is like telling them, "Keep going. Because now life will come at you hard, like it has come at everyone that has lived long enough."
With apologies for the discount psychoanalysis, Bill, projection isn't just for the movies. Especially given how you also joked in the speech about "an actor going through a bad divorce," it's pretty obvious that a certain Illinois-born screen legend could use a little boost of his own.
Your gloomy mood isn't confined merely to award shows, either—it's infecting your film choices. The last time you starred in a pure, live-action comedy was 1997, in The Man Who Knew Too Little. After that, a preference for independent filmmakers—and your determination to join the Serious Actors Club—resulted in a parade of Oscar-worthy dramatic roles. The nomination—and famous snub—came for Lost in Translation, but you added depth with every role from Rushmore to Broken Flowers.
All this darkness is weighing on you. In a GQ story last summer, you recalled how the great film critic Elvis Mitchell told you that making one depressing film after another was bound to—wait for it—depress you. Wise words.
Bill Murray, America's greatest wingman, you need cheering up, and we aim to send a little love your way. Okay. Awesome. You have proved how good of a dramatic actor you are. But a man doesn't get to be immortalized on film with Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan because he makes indie films that speak to the existential angst of the art-house crowd. Like the Preston Sturges classic Sullivan's Travels, you seem to have been so concerned with doing "important" work, you've forgotten that making people laugh can be the most important work of all.
Restless perfectionism is a natural state for the great artist. Every once in a while, though, it's healthy to reflect on your accomplishments. Sure, Hollywood might never give you an Oscar. It's not because the Academy Awards undervalues comedy—even though they do. It has nothing to do with Garfield, either. (Yo. Get over Garfield, already. No one cares. If you really want to self-flagellate in public, we can compare Where the Buffalo Roam to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) The Academy won't give you that gold statue because they will never forgive you for the Oscar prediction segments on Saturday Night Live—the routine that savagely laid bare the thinking, and lack of it, that goes into who gets the awards.
Most Oscar voters, like most film critics, suffer from a congenital case of Gary Oldman Syndrome, aka; Meryl Streepitis. They break out in a cold sweat any time actors "disappear" into a role—by gaining or losing weight, or with accents, costumes, and makeup.