Are you a big fan, like really big fan, of one of these people?
The band Phoenix
If you really like one or more of those celebrities, you might enjoy watching A Very Murray Christmas, the Sofia Coppola–directed holiday variety special starring Bill Murray that premiered on Netflix this past weekend. The folks listed above get a fair amount of screen time, and if you are generally charmed by them—which, given that they are beloved entertainers, is certainly a possibility—then you should watch. If your priorities run more toward tightly written and directed comedic storytelling and only watching musical performances by actual musicians, then, eh, maybe not.
The premise of A Very Etc. is that Murray is scheduled to put on a live TV holiday show at New York’s Carlyle Hotel when a snowstorm knocks the power out and strands him in the hotel for the night with its staff and some guests with whom he can sing songs and banter. It’s a fun idea in a knowing way, but it does not seem like the production involved excessive attention to rehearsal/rewriting/editing, so the bits often come off a little flat despite the involvement of very capable performers.
The early scenes are particularly dodgy. There’s potential in the premise of Amy Poehler as a phony-baloney producer, Michael Cera as a pushy talent manager, and Chris Rock as Chris Rock trying to get out of appearing in Bill Murray’s holiday special, but each line of repartee feels like it’s about a half-beat behind where it should be. Murray is just not quite at ease playing a version of himself who’s more insecure and ingenuous than his usual self-assured ironist. And your mileage may vary, but I would not mind having the minutes of my life that I used to hear Chris Rock’s purposefully tone-deaf performance of “Do You Hear What I Hear” returned to me. Of Bill Murray and Jenny Lewis sort-of flirting through a 26-year age gap during “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” let us never speak of it again.
That said, several of the musical performances are genuinely impressive. Rudolph, Phoenix, and especially Cyrus deliver on the showmanship front—I encourage everyone to watch Miley Cyrus sing “Sleigh Ride,” and that is definitely not a sentence I thought I would ever type. Phoenix’ grooving cover of what is apparently a little-known Beach Boys tune called “Alone on Christmas Day” is one that I’ve already found myself going back and listening to again. The plot device that takes up the middle third of the movie, meanwhile—Rashida Jones and Jason Schwartzmann as a feuding but adorable couple—is a winning one, and those scenes are set in the Carlyle’s cozy bar, which is a pretty dang nice place to set anything.
The show could feasibly become an annual tradition; Murray is obviously a well-liked person with lots of interesting friends, and he would probably grow into his role as host. For now, though, we have A Very Murray Christmas, and at the very least there are certainly worse ways to spend 56 minutes on a wint’ry December evening than watching it.