Groundhog Day (1993)
Release Date: February 12th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Harold Ramis Actors: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Marita Geraghty
ill Murray’s trademark performance is at work in “Groundhog Day” as he perfects the pompous, self-absorbed, and sarcastic figure he personified in numerous roles, including “Tootsie” and “Ghostbusters.” The film also stands out as one of the best scripted, smartly edited, and most moving pieces of comedic cinema ever made, even being inducted into the U.S. National Film Registry for its artistic significance. It’s a wholeheartedly feel-good movie with generous bits of morals, oodles of hilarious pessimism mixed with enchanting hope, and bitingly hysterical comic routines. The fascinatingly simple premise it presents is also one of the most intricately thought-provoking, highlighting a timeless comedy sure to inspire viewers with its upbeat, jovial ethics and antics.
WPBH Channel 9 Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) travels once again (for the fourth year in a row) to the monotonous February 2nd Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. At the party center of Gobbler’s Knob, an oversized rodent will predict the remaining duration of winter. Teamed with overenthusiastic producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and quirky cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot), permanently cranky Phil barely makes it through the day; he hostilely confronts seemingly random events, including running into an old high school nuisance, stepping in a muddy pothole, and waking up to the annoying local radio station announcers.
Stuck in the small town overnight due to a blizzard he failed to predict, Phil wakes up the following morning to Groundhog Day…again! Assuming he’s experiencing déjà vu, he visits a neurologist (a delightful cameo by director Harold Ramis) and then a psychiatrist, only to be told that there’s nothing wrong with him. Hoping it’s all just a bad dream, Phil awakes the next morning to the exact same nightmare…he’s stuck reliving Groundhog Day for the rest of his life. He realizes that no matter what is accomplished during his one repeated day, the following sunup wipes the slate clean; so he decides to use this to his advantage, exploiting a world without consequences. Memorizing information about townsfolk so he can pick up women, evade the police, and rob a bank, he quickly grows tired of his cursed immortality. Stuck in a viciously never-ending cycle, he even turns to thoughts of suicide. When that proves futile as well, he begins to understand that he has the option to better the lives of those around him instead of twisting the situation to his own ascendancy.
MacDowell sweetly portrays the love interest who, despite Connor’s knowledgeable advances (from note-taking), proves to be the hardest woman to win over – and therefore the most appealing. Chris Elliot provides comic relief from Murray’s own brand of cynical humor, though Murray’s convincing performance, handling exceptional dialogue from writers Ramis and Danny Rubin, single-handedly makes this movie a poignant masterpiece (one brilliantly incorporating drama with the hilarity). Ramis makes a lively film out of few sets and a cast of only a handful of actors. The uniqueness of the plot requires nothing more, as it employs a clever fantasy idea like 1988’s “Big.”
While the script doesn’t involve time travel per se, it’s definitely an alteration of the standard narrative timeline, marking one of those rare cinematic occasions when extreme repetition only gets funnier. When Connor begins to collect information on people, the film is pieced together with segments reminiscent of bloopers. Murray’s frustration and practiced techniques of redoing events over and over until he gets the results he wants are superb – a funny, sad, heartwarming series of trial-and-error revisions. Astounding in its structuring, romantic stature, examination of values, desperation, and mortality through character introspection, and laugh-out-loud funny moments, “Groundhog Day” was voted the 34th funniest American film of the last century by the American Film Institute.
– Mike Massie