David Denby’s review of Ghostbusters, which I don’t have in front of me, praised the cast for sounding like the New York hipsters they wanted to be and have never existed (Pauline Kael’s cranky notice, in which she consumes her word count complaining about the film’s budget, gets it wrong). Harold Ramis’ script is generous; each character gets a share of the zingers, including Annie Potts. Bill Murray was never more Bill Murray than in the delivery of “What about the Twinkie” (no question mark — that’s the key); it defines his approach to comedy.
Like most comedic talents Harold Ramis wasn’t immune to hackwork. In Baby Boom he plays a yuppie variant on Egon Spengler; he’s Egon as described in the Ghostbusters pitch. Multiplicity is a horrifying way to spend a snowed-in winter’s night. He loved performers, and would you reject the chance to work with Michael Keaton and Billy Crystal? I’m glad we all thought Groundhog Day was a classic — until Rushmore Bill Murray’s best according to respectable critics (Quick Change, Tootsie, Stripes…there’s competition). The wonder is how it finds a hundred twists on a one-joke scenario, how it turns Andie MacDowell, sipping sweet vermouth on the rocks, into an object of desire.
Ramis’ life was as strange as yours and mine. Read Tad Friend’s 2004 New Yorker profile. He devoted himself to an intense study of Buddhism. He came to predictable conclusions using novel formulas. From the profile:
One afternoon, Ramis and I had lunch at a tavern near his office. He began talking about another star of his early films, Chevy Chase. “Do you know the concept of proprioception, of how you know where you are and where you’re oriented?” he asked. “Chevy lost his sense of proprioception, lost touch with what he was projecting to people. It’s strange, but you couldn’t write Chevy as a character in a novel, because his whole attitude is just superiority: ‘I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.’ ”
There’s a Harold Ramis movie here too.