Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray, Sofia Coppola.
Cast: Bill Murray, Paul Shaffer, Amy Poehler, Julie White, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, David Johansen, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Phoenix (rock band).
If you’re looking for a traditional, somewhat cheesy, holiday special, the kind you see on broadcast television starring Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., or Josh Groban, then this is not going to be your cup of tea. If, however, you want to feel a little warm and cosy but with some itchiness and don’t mind your jolly served with a sardonic side of reality, then get comfortable and settle in to this hour long Christmas special courtesy of Bill Murray. Fans of Murray have already been treated in the past to his upsetting of traditional holiday cheer with more grim takes on traditional tales, such as 1988’s Scrooged, which was a bleaker version of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol.
So what is the premise for this experiment? Bill Murray is in his hotel room getting ready for the Christmas special he is about to star in (how very meta), but to the very last minute he is trying to get out of it. He comes to begrudgingly acquiesce, cheered on by his producers, played by Amy Poehler and Julie White. He fends off a smarmy talent agent (Michael Cera) only to find that a snow storm has caused his show to be canceled and leaves the actor stranded in the Carlyle in the company of his pianist (Paul Shaffer) and some hotel guests.
Refusing to have their Christmas Eve ruined the motley crew of guests and hotel employees entertain themselves through drink and song. Not all the numbers are Christmas staples and not all are great, but mostly the music is very well done and the special uses the talent gathered to its advantage. A special standout is Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley fame, as well as a successful solo career) who matches Murray’s subdued and melancholic tones and notes quite nicely, especially giving us a lovely version of the usually problematic “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
Rounding out the bizarre group are a couple whose wedding day is ruined by the storm (Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones, who shouldn’t ever sing), a bartender played by David Johanson (New York Dolls), and a lounge singer (Maya Rudolph) who delivers a very spirited version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
The special’s tone kept getting excessively hipster-y, and between the very glum look of the cinematography, the inclusion of Schwartzman and many indie rock characters, I began to wonder who was behind the camera. The second a group of kitchen cooks began singing and I realized it was the French band Phoenix I had the sneaking suspicion that Sofia Coppola had something to do with it. Coppola had directed Murray to his only Academy Award nomination with Lost in Translation, is the cousin of Schwartzman, and is married to the lead singer of Phoenix. It’s not hard to add 2 and 2 together.
During a dream sequence the Christmas special becomes more traditional, the lighting changes, the set pieces suddenly become shiny and expensive, dancers appear, as well as special guests George Clooney and Miley Cyrus. Cyrus receives a lot of criticism, not all of it unwarranted, but one thing the young performer has been proving is that she is quite the capable singer, and her version of “Silent Night” is both classic and classy.
In a funny twist, Bill Murray was just nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for the category of best actor in a television movie for playing himself. Murray does a nice job in this “movie”, but the nomination is a stretch. Come Christmas day I don’t know if you are going to be remembering the show or any individual performance and I doubt this will become a holiday staple for many homes across the country, unless you’re a hipster, if so then snap your fingers in delight, Instagram your reaction, and ironically hum away.