Groundhog Day (1993) dir. Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie McDowell, Chris Elliot
“Groundhog Day” is a perfect film of its genre - a high concept comedy where the concept never trumps the comedy, story or characters. A self-obsessed weatherman has to relive the same tedious Groundhog Day in lame Punxsutawney PA over and over again. The film never gets too clever for itself and let’s Bill Murray’s sardonic personality lead the audience into his own personal day of hell.
The first act establishes Phil Connors (Bill Murray) a depressed and cynical weatherman who loathes his annual assignment of covering the Groundhog celebrations in Punxsutawney PA. It’s a demeaning chore for a man who dreams of hitting the big time and going ‘national’. His producer Rita (Andie McDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) are forced to suffer through Phil’s moping through out the day. But when a monster snowstorm hits (like the one we got yesterday in Toronto), Phil is forced to stay the night, but when he wakes up, it’s the same day as yesterday. Phil’s moves through the same steps as the day before, has the same conversations, with the same people – it’s his day of hell again.
Days pass, and it’s the same thing over and over again. After much thought, Phil’s dishonesty takes over and he starts using the timeloop to his advantage – stealing some money from some lazy security guards, bedding a local cougar etc. With each passing day he slowly falls in love with Rita – unfortunately with each day he has to start over again with his courtship. As the frustration mounts he comes to grip with his own personal frailties – the recognition of which will eventually allow him to escape his nightmare.
“Groundhog Day” resembles another time-capsule film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. In fact, it’s the inverse of that film. Phil Connors is the opposite of George Bailey. George’s life was about altruistic giving, whereas Phil’s life was egotistical selfishness. Divine intervention strikes upon both characters in opposite ways. The angel Clarence allows George to see how his ‘wonderful’ life has contributed to the well being of everyone around him, and the unseen forces looking down upon Phil reveals his own malfeasance. The comparisons don’t go too much beyond that, but it would be an interesting double-bill of divinity.
Bill Murray is the ideal Phil Connors. He builds upon the despicable Frank Cross in 1988’s “Scrooge’d”. Bill, as usual, is dry and sardonic – reprehensible but lovable as well. Despite the high concept Murray and director Harold Ramis manage to put the cleverness away in the second half of the film and concentrate on a romance.
It’s a surprise the film turns into a romantic comedy, because Rita is kept largely out of the film in the first half. The second half is still heavily weighted toward Murray, but it only takes an infectious smile from McDowell to make the romantic connection to the audience.
The ending is an oddity, as Phil’s nightmare ends after he successful sleeps with Rita before the stroke of midnight. Was the purpose of the time-warp so Phil could find the right woman to make him a real man, or was it so he could conquer the unconquerable?
In any case, “Groundhog Day” is a perfect film for the February blahs – a month with nothing to really look forward to other than bad weather and shoveling snow. Enjoy.
A 15th Anniversary edition of “Groundhog Day” is available on DVD from Sony Picture’s Home Entertainment.