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.
MORE ON BILL MURRAY:
James Parker: The Existential Clown
Cullen Murphy: Back to Square One
Christopher Orr: The Movie Review: 'The Life Aquatic'
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.
Your career is based on something infinitely more rare. You don't vanish into roles. You reveal yourself through them, bringing a truth about who you are to every performance. That takes acting chops, sure, but so much more. It also demands a human being that audiences want to know. It takes a billion megawatts of charisma—a personality so bright that audiences around the world can fall in love with it. The Murray persona is quite simply as beloved as any in the history of film. You (and much of Washington D.C.) may obsess over middling Cubs second-baseman Emil Verban, but your career numbers are more like Ernie Banks or Ryne Sandberg.
Let people marvel at Christian Bale's ability to starve himself. How many of them would want to play golf with the guy? Your vast, inescapable, hysterically funny persona—in manifestations from Todd DiLaMuca to the note-perfect cameo in Zombieland—is that one-in-a-billion quality that lifted you high above the realm of mere actor or movie star to pop culture icon. What's the most famous monologue in cinematic history? Bogart's farewell in Casablanca? Jack Nicholson at the end of A Few Good Men? Polonius' advice to Laertes? Homeboy, please. How many times in your life have you heard anyone quote Polonius? But just try to get through an hour of sports talk radio on any station in North America without hearing a bit of Carl Spackler's Cinderella Boy.
Those are gargantuan, extraordinary achievements, Bill Murray. And therein lies your one-way ticket out of Gloomytown. Make 'em laugh, kid. We have the perfect project for you, too. It's a movie you once described to David Letterman as "my nightmare." You guessed it. Haul out the old brown jumpsuit, and play Dr. Peter Venkman one more time.
Make Ghostbusters 3, Bill. Please? The long-awaited, long-long-long-rumored third installment could start shooting this year—but only if you agree to appear in it. Ivan Reitman, on a recent publicity tour for No Strings Attached, said you have been sent a reworked script. They even used your idea about Venkman dying and coming back to haunt the cast, too That's badass. You'll be like Swayze in Ghost, dude. With Sigourney Weaver as your Demi Moore. Pretty please? Maybe you could turn the whole thing to your advantage. Back when the studios were fighting over who would make the first Ghostbusters, you used that leverage to get The Razor's Edge financed. You could do the same now—agree to make the threequel of the studio will finance a film you do care about.
Yes, of course GB3 will be a glitzy, bloated, major studio production. There will be a huge budget. They will shoot the thing in 3-D, and bury the story under a mountain of special effects. There will be tons of cross-promotion, too, with merchandising out the yin-yang—an entirely new wave of Ghostbusters-themed action figures, lunchboxes, bed sheets, and Underoos.
That, my friend, is a little thing called "job creation." In a time of economic hardship, can you really deny this great nation the positive economic impact of a huge Hollywood blockbuster?
Come on, Bill. America needs you—and not just for the Peter Venkman underwear. Laughter is a gift, maybe the greatest of all gifts, and there just aren't that many people on the planet that can make us laugh like you do. We need you, Bill. For real. That must be more encouraging than any dumb award ever could be. Besides, deep down, if you were being honest with yourself, you would have to admit that you need us a little bit, too. If that's not love, it's as close as a relationship between a star and his fans can get.