Stuck somewhere between the Chateaux Marmont and old Judy Garland variety shows, Netflix’s A Very Murray Christmas is likely the oddest thing you’ll encounter in the pile of Holiday specials that inundate us this time of year. Eschewing the format of the more recent crop of specials such as the recent A CMA Country Christmas, director Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray fashion an homage to more classic variety shows by gluing together celebrity encounters with traditional Christmas standards. Not all of it works, but there are enough nuggets of goodness to warrant a listen while you’re signing Christmas cards or wrapping in-law gift – faint praise, maybe, but an honest reaction.
The thin premise has Murray contractually obligated to perform a live special on Christmas Eve in front of a collection of celebrities, none of whom can make it into New York City due to a massive snowstorm. When the power goes out, insurance kicks in and Murray retreats to the bar where a menagerie of indie stars and singers serenade each other with Christmas carols. It’s the kind of experience where someone might engage in dialogue that eventually bleeds into “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or someone wants to show them “how it’s done” and breaks out into “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Some of it is very fun. I was especially fascinated by Saturday Night Live‘s Maya Rudolph’s middle-aged barfly whose best sequence comes in the closing credits. It’s a charming little performance that, in a just world, would merit its own indy film.
Things hit a high note when Murray eventually passes out and imagines a winter wonderland filled with a martini-guzzling George Clooney and a very game Miley Cyrus. Surprisingly, Cyrus’s three numbers, to these ears, were really the highlight of the episode. As a trained performer, Cyrus manages to effectively engage the dour Murray in a few upbeat numbers like “Sleigh Ride” and “Let It Snow.” She also admirably performs “Silent Night” classily seated on a piano. This Cyrus is a Miley Cyrus we need more of – not a tongue or twerk in sight. Bravo. Overall, A Very Murray Christmas is exactly what Bill Murray and Sophia Coppola intended it to be – a flighty homage to classic single-camera, 1950s-era variety shows made with a Lost in Translation viewpoint. It glides down easily enough, enjoyable enough but nearly forgotten as soon as its over. Still, I’d vastly prefer Coppola / Murray ennui over corporate-packaged network specials that lack any kind of soul.