A Very Murray Christmas

January 19, 2016


Tis the night before Christmas, and all through the States… families are sitting down before their telly boxes to indulge in Billy Murray’s star-studded seasonal confection.

Except an unexpected blizzard has shut down the airports, the roads, the bridges and tunnels. So where Pope Francis should be nuzzling down between Iggy Azzelia and Paul McCartney- part of the cooing A-List audience expected to guffaw at Murray’s every action, cardboard cut outs stand, lifeless, instead. Rather than bantering with bright lights of the entertainment industry- like George Clooney and Miley Cyrus, he’s faced with empty space and dead air. 

It’s beginning to feel a lot like a ‘Christ-mess’, with threats of legal action from Amy Pohler and Julie White’s good cop/bad cop producers replacing visions of sugar plums dancing in his head, as our master of ceremonies goes through an existential crisis. Anxious and alone, how do you light up the holidays, when you despair at the season?

A power cut all across the eastern seaboard is the force majeure they prayed for. The special is pulled, leaving Murray and his pianist Paul Shaffer free to roam the halls, kitchens and stairways of the legendary Cafe Carlyle in search of booze. 

And here the brine turns blue, as Murray tries to rally others he finds whose plans have been interrupted by the storm. A couple whose wedding’s been cancelled (Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman); the chefs’ whose feast’s ‘a wasting (Phoenix); a bitter lush (Maya Rudolph); a harried maître d (the singer Jenny Greene). Even a New York Doll!

A blizzard of hipster hotshots breeze by, in character, singing poor to poignant versions of Christmas carols, as Murray growls random interjections and disperses sage advice. 

Then he blacks out- and brightens up, during a dream sequence, shot in brilliant white and ice blue, with notable personalities jing, jing, jing a-ling , ring ting a-ling-a-ling too. George turned up and he’s perving in the bushes, while Miley stops the show with her sincere and gloriously undisturbed version of ‘Silent Night’. Whatever Diageo might parp on about drinking sensibly, had Bill drank himself into a coma quicker the show we expected might have occurred.

A Very Murray Christmas bears the odd honor of being immediately disappointing, but equally affecting when you actually think about what it’s trying to say. Constantly told it’s the most wonderful time of the year, we throw ourselves into making the Yuletide gay, when often it can just be bitchy, tormenting us with thoughts of what we’re not, and have not.

Murray exploits the false joie de vivre and juxtaposes it with the isolation, yet idolatry, of a stars existence, always expected to be on, in character, ready to pose for that picture. Whenever the plot feels like it’s going somewhere, he refuses to play ball, half-heartedly sidestepping every attempt at following a linear story.

Instead he slunks dejectedly onto the next scenario, before repeating the process. Everyone involved feels the weight of expectation, they try to make the best of the occasion, which make A Very Murray Christmas an experiential downer, where the loneliness and sadness of the holidays takes centre stage, niggling into your psyche long after the barely clad lady has sung.

There are some lovely moments, predominantly in and around the songs. Trying to boost Murray’s spirits, so he can go before the cameras- and the lack of audience, Pohler and co march him down the back stairs singing “Let it Snow”. Phoenix , Director Sofia Coppola’s husband’s band, updates The Beach Boy’s Alone on Christmas Day. While “Fairy Tale of New York”, sung here by David Johansen (the ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged) and the assembled characters, succumbs to glorious, pitchy individuality, as all the assembled characters get lost in their own memories, a caterwauling familiar to anyone whose ever attended an Irish country wedding.

But much of the melancholy-sing-a-longs are distressed by Murray’s random improvisations that seem determined not to let any scenario inject levity into the special. The wrangling between himself, Jesse Eisenberg, Chris Rock and Amy Pohler in the beginning feel like a poorly placed abstractions before the real fun can begin, although it never truly does. Nothing these guys do is in anyway wrong, we just need more of them, more of everything.

While there’s real feeling here, a sour sentiment that hits my soft spot, like poorly set eggnog, it needed a longer running time so its multiple flavors could take. It still has the makings of a seasonal favorite, just a selective one, the telly version of coffee roses.

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