plotting it out

Happy to Sad, Affable to Dickish: The Definitive Bill Murray Role Matrix

In Hyde Park on Hudson, which opens today, Bill Murray plays FDR. (Bilge Ebiri reviews the film here.) It’s hard to reconcile the young punk on SNL with the actor entrusted to play one of our most beloved presidents. However, such is the trajectory of Murray’s career, which ranges from antiauthoritarian smirkers to depressed middle-agers to the leader of the free world. So many types of roles over this fantastic career, so there’s only one way to make sense of them all: Plot them on a matrix.

In looking at his filmography, from broad to subtle comedy to animation to drama, we decided all of his characters can be measured on two axes: from Happy to Sad, and from Dickish to Affable. (Click on the photo above to enlarge the full matrix.) It’s this latter axis that can be complicated with Murray. He is, by definition, loveable: Just see how people react with sheer delight when encountering him in the real world. But in many of his early, eighties comedies, even though he plays the protagonist and ultimately does something heroic, he can be a real dick along the way. Scrooged? That guy was awful for most of the time. Sure, he redeems himself at the end, but there’s a lot of prickishness along the way. And what of John Winger in Stripes? Sure, he’s hilarious, but did he really need to be such a jerk to Sergeant Hulka? It’d be one thing if Hulka was a bullying boss at a department store, but this is the army! It’s his job to yell! Winger: iconic character, definitely on the dick side of the spectrum, especially when compared to the guilelessly friendly (if pesty) heroes of The Man Who Knew Too Little and What About Bob?, both so sweet and friendly that Murray probably needed dental work after playing him (which would’ve made his Little Shop of Horrors character PSYCHED). So, peruse our matrix and see where we plotted these parts and the rainbow of Murrays in between. Feel free to argue for your own plotting in the comments below.

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Read the Definitive Bill Murray Character Matrix