Groundhog Day (1993)
Groundhog Day (1993)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.

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

 


 

B

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 prior roles, including “Tootsie” and “Ghostbusters.” The picture as a whole also stands out as one of the most cleverly scripted, smartly edited, and emotionally moving ever made, even being inducted into the U.S. National Film Registry for its artistic significance. It’s a wholeheartedly feel-good experience with generous bits of morals, oodles of hilarious pessimism mixed with enchanting hope, and bitingly hysterical routines. The simple premise it presents is also one of the most thought-provoking, highlighting a timeless comedy sure to inspire viewers with its 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 inconveniences, 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 what could potentially be 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.

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, since it employs an ingenious fantasy idea like the unpredictable ones found in “Big” or “Splash.”

Perhaps what is most profound about this twist on a Dickensian fable is the comic way in which the seven stages of grief are alternatingly visualized. Not only does Phil deny and then plead with the truths and horrors of his condition, but he also eventually moves beyond a solution to his own plight. At a certain point, his motives turn to helping others, going so far as to repetitiously experiment with life and death scenarios until a suitable outcome presents itself. Is it all a blessing or a curse? Could this quandary actually be perceived in varying perspectives, as a drunken bowler and a love interest casually suggest? Here, true happiness is found in selflessness – the kind of thematic message that practically sums up the idealistic meaning of life itself, despite arising in an over-the-top, fantastical romantic comedy.

The editing is also outstanding; 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 collects 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 are superb – a goofy, sad, heartwarming series of trial-and-error revisions. Astounding in its structuring, romantic stature, examination of values, (including multi-faceted desperation and mortality through character introspection), and laugh-out-loud funny moments, “Groundhog Day” is an unmissable contemporary classic, appropriately voted as the 34th funniest American movie of the last century by the American Film Institute.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10