A Very Murray Christmas

Though there is much festive warmth about A Very Murray Christmas, it adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

Review by Ben Venables | 07 Dec 2015
  • A Very Murray Christmas

Bill Murray reunites with director Sofia Coppola for this Netflix Christmas special and as he roams around the Carlyle Hotel like a benign ghost of the season, the spectre of their previous collaboration naturally seems to haunt this offering. In fact, more than simply drawing comparison between the two, A Very Murray Christmas positively invites it. There's the downbeat mood, the careful direction and also the attention to aesthetics – here, the set's honeyed palette adds a richness and texture. However, overall there are only echoes of Lost In Translation's nuance or muted pathos.

There is a slight premise: Murray is set to perform a variety Christmas special from the hotel, but a blizzard prevents the lined-up stars – including George Clooney and Miley Cyrus – from arriving. The special is cancelled, much to the relief of producers played by Amy Poehler and Julie White. Murray then resolves to bring the mood up by saving a feast going to waste and bringing it to the bar, and along the way he reunites a jilted bride (Rashida Jones) with her groom (Jason Schwartzman). This never really approaches a plot, and probably isn't meant to: it's all just to facilitate the celebrity guests crooning onto screen. The evening then becomes the kind of variety night that was canned within the story – albeit a variety night of the downbeat sort we'd expect from Murray.

There's nothing too bad about any of this, there's a gentle amiability to its tone. But, despite the appearance of a calm pace and mood, the 14 songs and guest appearances become rather relentlessly crammed into a special that is under an hour. Detrimentally, this almost always overshadows the individual performance – however strong that performance is. There are exceptions: the scene and duet between Murray and Chris Rock suggests everything A Very Murray Christmas could be, with a naturalistic comedy generated from the awkward situation and the contrasting characters of the two, which segues effortlessly into their rendition of Do You Hear What I Hear?.

Then, towards the end, Murray dreams that Cyrus and Clooney really arrived after all. Though the set becomes more of a lavish winter landscape, Cyrus's performance is entirely without the smash and grab route to our attention we're perhaps expecting, and her turns of Let it Snow and Sleigh Ride are memorably straightforward. 

With Cyrus particularly in mind, A Very Murray Christmas leaves us with a somewhat unexpected conclusion: the 'cancelled' version of the variety night (as Murray dreams of here) may well have been worth seeing more of, rather than just as the enjoyable last hurrah of the one we instead watched.

A Very Murray Christmas is out now on Netflix.