I lost my virginity because of Bill Murray. Well, no, that might be overstating it. He wasn’t in the room when it happened. But he was in my head, or at least his characters were. If they could make it work with acne, a paunch and bad posture, surely, I could, too.
I'm 52 now, and Bill Murray has done it again. In Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (in theaters Oct. 22), Murray plays an aging magazine founding editor who treats his writers like his own children, and it feels like a master class in parenthood. Never yell, be patient, and grumble when your kids bleed you dry but pay up anyway.
Middle-aged men have a unique relationship with Bill Murray. We’ve grown up with him. And for some of us, he’s guided us through the first half-century of our lives. Every decade, he’s been right there with movies that were like blueprints for better living.
Here's how Murray has been our Sherpa along the great climb to modern manhood.
Murray road map: Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980)
We’re all Carl, the bumbling groundskeeper in Caddyshack—invisible to the world, incapable of doing the simplest of tasks. Losing is inevitable, and as Tripper reminds us in Meatballs, "It just doesn’t matter." There's something freeing in that, the realization that the gophers and Camp Mohawks in life are probably going to win, so who cares? You can try again tomorrow. Maybe this time with dynamite!
Murray road map: Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984)
Your body’s changing. You feel weird and unlovable, and you’re covered in slime far more than you’d like to admit. “We’re mutants," Winger reminds his fellow recruits (and, basically, all teenagers) in Stripes. But you'll figure it out, just like Peter Venkman and the other Ghostbusters figured out how to use those unlicensed nuclear accelerators without blowing themselves up. The things you think are flaws may just be your superpowers.
Murray road map: What About Bob? (1991), Groundhog Day (1993)
Being a smug ass like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day isn’t as cute as it was back in high school. It’s time to grow up a little. Be kinder to the people around you. You’re responsible for your days. You can make them happy or sad, full of meaning or more of the same. Do things that terrify you, and then celebrate every victory. You’re sailing! You’re a sailor now! Ahoy!
Murray road map: Lost in Translation (2003), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Am I ever going to be good again? Steve Zissou wondered to himself. And you’re at an age when you share his ennui. Maybe don't take so many business trips, and stop flirting with younger women. Stick with the ones your own age, as they're more likely to save you from pirates. Also, that metaphorical shark you're after, even if you find it, it's not going to make you happy.
Murray road map: Moonrise Kingdom (2012), St. Vincent (2014)
Parenting is hard, but your kids idolize you more than you know, even when you screw up. Some nights, you’ll lie in bed like Mr. Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom, staring at the ceiling and hoping to get sucked into space. That’s just melancholy—it passes. Try listening to Bob Dylan songs on an old Walkman while having a sneaky cigarette. The little moments matter more than they used to.
Source photo credits, left to right: Warner Bros.; Alamy; Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Pitcher: Alamy; Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Searchlight Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; Background: Getty Images