Review: Groundhog Day
Produced by: Trevor Albert, Harold Ramis
Written by: Danny Rubin (also story), Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott
Music by: George Fenton
Terrible romantic comedies are a dime a few dozen, and it’s a shame that some rather wonderful love stories get thrown out with the rest of the trash just because they happen to be humorous movies that also are about love. But there is one standout that I have to say transcends even some of the best romantic comedies out there – one particular movie that just so happens to take place on a particular February holiday that people across the nation pay way more attention to than it really, quite honestly, deserves… I am, of course, talking about Groundhog Day.
More so than any other holiday this country celebrates, Groundhog Day is an inexplicably celebrated tradition, one that, for some reason, gets far more attention than other mundane “holidays” like Flag Day and possibly even Earth Day. And yet it seemingly has very little meaning or purpose to even those who celebrate it beyond the curiosity factor. I guarantee you that, come this day, people at work will be spreading word about whether the holiday namesake saw his shadow or not, as if it were some miraculous event that will, in fact, influence the seasons. Rationally, they know it won’t, but they still like pretending to. People may disagree about politics, religion, creed, and who should win the Super Bowl (or, in my case, whether they should even give a damn), but whether or not Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow is, remarkably, a somewhat substantial point of interest come February 2nd. It’s bizarre.
Whatever the importance of the holiday or however the dubious validity of the groundhog’s meteorological abilities are, however, we do at least owe the little guy for inspiring the creation of one particular film: Groundhog Day.
This is, in my opinion, the greatest romantic comedy ever made. Perfectly executed, complex in structure, and deep in thoughtfulness, it’s also both heartfelt and absolutely hysterical. Groundhog Day is just one of those amazing films that I used to throw on and watch again within only a few weeks of having watched it previously – and if you know me, I don’t actually do that very often, even for the movies I love! Somehow, this film about repeating the same obnoxiously quaint holiday only gets better upon repeat viewings. It’s also one of the few non-action films I deliberately upgraded to a Blu-Ray, thanks to the fact that I owned a cruddy early DVD edition of the film with terrible picture quality that was, nonetheless, very well loved.
If you are somehow not familiar with the story of Harold Ramis’ masterpiece, it’s really rather simple to explain: Egocentric and acerbic weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is sent out to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the famous groundhog event firsthand for the fourth year in a row. Along with him is the dopey cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) and the beautiful and cheerful new producer Rita (Andie MacDowell). Phil is, of course, attracted to Rita, but he’s too superficial and arrogant to treat her any nicer because of it. After finding there’s nothing left for him to loathe there, however, he also finds himself stranded when a blizzard that he had predicted would pass over brazenly disobeys him. And when he wakes up the very next morning, he’s stunned to find that he not only can’t leave Punxsutawney, he can’t even stop reliving Groundhog Day over… and over… and over… and over…
Now I might be biased since this is probably the first Bill Murray film that I ever saw as a kid, but I’d have to say that this is Murray at his best. His famous ability to take the part of a sarcastic jerk and still manage to make these awful people endearing characters is put to great use here. Every grimace, roll of the eye, and sneer is brilliantly delivered, and every mean-spirited line is dripping with sarcastic contempt and disdain in the most entertaining way possible. Murray’s inherent likability as an actor also makes his gradual transformation into a better person a genuine and touching journey for Phil – a man who once saw his doom to relive the same day over and over and still concluded that he must be a god.
As for the love interest, Andie MacDowell is nicely cast as Rita, the obligatory romantic who prefers to see the good in people first and let them prove her otherwise if they so wish. Though Rita can be a bit pretentious in her ideals (she seems overly disappointed in Phil’s lighthearted toast to the groundhog and cuts him down when she says she usually toasts to world peace), she does come off as a relatively genuine person with a kind heart, just beautiful but with enough flaws to see through Phil’s own and recognize his potential. Her warmth and generosity towards him, even when he doesn’t deserve it, eventually helps him to become the better person he is by the end of the film.
Speaking of which, the script and plotting are sublime. It’s not often that you come across a film that is at once witty, romantic, and yet also complex in structure. You definitely wouldn’t expect it from a romantic comedy, but here you have it. I’ve heard from some non-fans – and, yes, they do exist, God help them – that the film is too repetitive and took the easy road by simply using the same material over again. While people are entitled to their opinions, I’m going to go on the record and say that they are flat out, 100% wrong.
The use of repetition is actually one of the film’s many strengths, thanks primarily to the fact that all the repeated elements – the extras in the background, the supporting cast of townsfolk, the music, the sets and events – are carefully chosen for maximum effect. While we don’t get to see every time Phil relives the day, it is strongly hinted that, by the end of the film, what has felt like only 24 hours for everyone else has been a near eternity for Phil, and it begins to show in his behavior, countenance, and emotional state. After waking up every morning to the same annoying tune (Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You, Babe”), the same annoying radio hosts, hearing the same annoying polka music blasting from the same gazebo of annoying people, and going to bed knowing that he’s going to have to relive the same annoying day all over again, getting to the breakdown of Phil’s ego and his betterment as a person is just a matter of time. It just didn’t help his situation that Phil was such a stubborn prick!
The fact is that there really isn’t just one great thing I can say about Groundhog Day. It’s probably one of the few films that comes closest to perfection, in my humble opinion, more than any other film that I can think of. It’s a story of redemption and second chances that never comes off as manipulative or schmaltzy, and it’s funny and quotable enough to be considered a genuine classic of the comedy genre, too. (I especially love the line, “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.”) And even the romance aspect of the film has a wonderful payoff that, while ending with the two predictably together, takes a few unpredictable turns on the way there that makes the obvious conclusion an appropriate one. Phil learns that it’s not perfection or false intimacy that Rita hopes for, but rather a kind and loving person who not only cares for her, but for others as well.
While Valentine’s Day is just a mere 12 days later, I would encourage you and your significant other to ignore the trash that infests this genre, take a cue from my childhood, and relive February 2nd all over again. All Valentine’s Day ever gave film fans was that horrible Garry Marshall film, anyway!
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 5 / 5