Christmas… Bill Murray… Bill Murray… Christmas… Christmas and Bill Murray? Now we’re talking! No, not about A Very Murray Christmas (although that is great), but Scrooged.
In my eyes, the only thing more Christmassy than reading the tale of literature’s most famous cynic is perhaps a 1980s update of said tale featuring Hollywood’s favourite wisecracking cynic. Does that make me cynical? Maybe. Maybe not.
In this modern take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a wildly successful television executive whose cold drive to reach the top has pushed away the love of his life, Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). But after firing a staff member on Christmas Eve, Frank, who is busy trying to organise a live telecast of an adaptation of Dickens’s famous novel, is visited by a series of ghosts who… Well, you know the rest of the story.
Now, let’s get this straight. Is this the best Christmas film of all time? Absolutely not: it is in most people’s eyes cheesy, crude and, at times, too cynical. Beloved film critic Robert Ebert, who very much disliked the film, said that “Scrooged is one of the most disquieting, unsettling films to come along in quite some time… The movie’s overriding emotions seem to be pain and anger.”
I completely understand why you may jump ship now on my viewpoint that this film has merits. Ebert is by far a more successful and lauded critic than I am, or ever will be. And rightly so – this is not a piece of work by some self-obsessed overlooked-genius-type; I know my place.
However, I would argue that only a cynic would entirely cast aside a cynical film because they consider it too cynical. I am not saying that this is a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, what I am saying is that nestled in the centre of this metafictional Christmas pudding is a shining sixpence.
After all, is it not redeeming the goodness in the seemingly bad that is in keeping with the true spirit of Christmas? This silver lining of hope comes mainly in the form of Murray’s performance, not because it is necessarily good but because it is so idiosyncratically ironic.
Unlike, the metafictional glances that have seen Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s star power grow exponentially over the past few years, Murray’s shtick is disinterested, teetering on boredom; he is out of sync with the rest of the cast. But, it is not a bad performance. Much has been made of how Murray seemingly exists within and without the film, so I will not go over old ground. However, that gruff, slightly off-centre presence disrupts the chemistry in every scene and lends perfectly to the updated Scrooge of the film. Instead of bah-humbugging everyone, isn’t it more fitting that a late-twentieth-century Scrooge would have that very ironic, very cynical persona?
When combined with the New York television studio and the live telecast premise, we get a brilliantly funny, perhaps unintentional, lampooning of this hip postmodern irony that was coursing through the veins of late 80s early 90s culture.
The only problem is the film or Murray or both don’t know when to stop this ironic glaring. When Murray’s Frank is redeemed by his experience of looking into his past, present, and future, he barges onto the set, halts the telecast and begins a 7-minute long rant about the spirit of Christmas. It’s strange. Very strange. It’s not even that funny. The redemption is not as moving as it should be; we never really buy that Murray’s character believes the words he is saying.
Anyway, Scrooged is worth your time, even if it is just a life lesson that modern scrooges aren’t necessarily just tight-fisted penny pinchers, but also cynical ironists who overlook the true sincerity of the festive period.
So with that in mind, I don’t wish you a too Murray Christmas, just a very merry one.
Dir: Richard Donner
Scr: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Glover, Alfre Woodard, John Forsythe, Robert Mitchum, David Johansen, Carol Kane
Prd: Richard Donner, Art Linson
DoP: Michael Chapman
Music: Danny Elfman
Runtime: 101 mins