Groundhog Day (1993)

2009-02-17 10:21
 
Groundhog Day

The plot of Groundhog Day is more nightmarish than funny – being stuck in some weird time loop in a small town full of irritating people with no way to break out. As well as being a metaphor for the rut of daily life many of us find ourselves in, it also asks the very important question of what exactly one can do when faced with this seemingly impossible plight.

Bill Murray is perfectly cynical as arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connor, sent to cover the Groundhog ceremony in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania – if the town’s famous groundhog emerges on February the second and sees his own shadow, the area is in for another six weeks of winter. He views the quaint local custom with utter contempt, and sees the whole job as nothing more than a tedious chore.

The progress of this day from hell is signposted by a series of banal annoyances designed to subtly grate even the most tolerant person, from the day’s 6am start with Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" blaring on the clock radio, to the annoying old acquaintance that won’t leave Phil alone. His initial sarcastic rudeness gives way to disbelief and horror, for the first few repeats of events, which then gives way to more sarcasm, denial, and finally acceptance, all played out with Bill Murray’s fantastic dry delivery.

Some of the best laughs of the movie come from the series of vignettes in which the frayed Phil tries to handle the wearing repeats of his day – from brutally attacking a man to electrocuting himself, it is like an insane child learning the new rules of existence through trial and fatal error. It would take the most humourless person on the planet not to crack up as Phil resignedly says a casual goodbye to his team before deliberately driving his car off a cliff, then waking up directly afterwards to Sonny and Cher again. As much as Phil tries to buck this baffling system, he ends up back where he started, as though the universe is trying to to force some painful life lesson on him.

It will come as little surprise to learn that Groundhog Day drew its main inspiration from a story by Friedrich Nietzsche called "The Gay Science", in which a man is forced to relive the same day over and over. It is this continuous trial which eventually tempers Phil into being a better person by the end of the film, starting with amusing running gags like taking the same piano lesson each day or learning French from scratch.

When these ludicrous romantic comedy stunts fail to impress love interest Rita (Andie McDowell), Phil’s character reshaping begins in earnest, exposing the real person beneath the sarcasm. It is quite amazing that we are able to warm to this arrogant bastard, yet our sympathies are undivided – a sure sign how easily Groundhog Day gets under our skin.

As well as being voted one of the top 50 comedies of all time by Premiere magazine, Groundhog Day has an almost universal appeal as a film about transcending the limits of one’s self. Very few other movies diarise the mechanisms of self improvement in such painful (and painfully hilarious) detail, and it is with a wicked sense of irony that a cocky man on the top of his game is effectively reduced to the level of an infant in a world where all the rules have been rewritten. As well as showing us all the possibilities of such a fantasy – good and bad – it also taps into our very basic human need for love and acceptance, as well as a good laugh.


A bit of trivia:

- Director Harold Ramis considered Tom Hanks, Chevy Chase, John Travolta and Steve Martin for the role of Phil, but passed them over because they were "too nice".

- Both Bill Murray and Harold Ramis have been honorary grand marshals at the groundhog ceremony in Punxatawney.

- Bill Murray was bitten twice by the groundhog during the shoot.

- Early drafts of the script explained the cause of Phil Connors' weird experience: a disaffected ex-lover called Stephanie cast a spell on him to teach him a lesson.

- Harold Ramis and Bill Murray had conflicting views on the tone of the film, with Ramis wanting more of a lighthearted comedy and Murray wanting it to be more philosophical. Apparently they have not spoken since its release.

Memorable quotes:

Phil:
I don't suppose there's any chance of an espresso or cappuccino?
Mrs. Lancaster: [confused look] Oh, I don't know...
Phil: [turns away, to self] ... how to spell espresso or cappuccino.


Rita: Look at all these people. They sit around telling stories. Then they sing songs all morning.
Phil: Yeah, they're hicks, Rita!


Phil: I'm a god. I'm not *the* God... I don't think.
Rita: You're not a god. You can take my word for it; this is twelve years of Catholic school talking.


Phil: You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.
 
If you had to relive the same day over and over, would it be a blessing or a curse? Bill Murray makes the most of it in this comedy classic.

What to read next: Groundhog Day on IMDb

Malcolm 2009/02/15 8:18 AM
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This movie is a true classic.It teaches a great lesson in the most hilarious way possible and I think Bill Murray was really good. I would definitely watch this movie again!
Alan 2009/02/16 11:09 AM
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For once Sadler is unlikely to receive angry, misspelt, capitalised comments. The person who gets nothing out of Groundhog Day urgently needs to seek professional help.
Frank 2009/02/16 5:21 PM
Very well written!
Fred 2009/02/17 9:08 AM
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Yes, I agree a good classic. One of Bill's good movies.
Mange 2009/02/19 10:26 AM
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I hired this the day I read this review. And yes, it's as great as you say. Except for teh last five minutes, when Andy McD's wholesomeness overwhelms and all you want to do is lean over a white picket fence and hurl.
R2 2009/02/19 10:27 AM
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Great one. Even worth buying, maybe.
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