Groundhog Day

Review No. 403

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The Bottom Line: Funny and intelligent to no discernible end.

Directed by: Harold Ramis
Screenplay by: Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
Story by: Danny Rubin
Phil Connors: Bill Murray
Rita: Andy MacDowell
Larry: Chris Elliott
Also Starring: Brian Doyle-Murray, Rick Ducommun, Stephen Tobolowsky

Distributed by Columbia Pictures on February 12, 1993. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 101 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA for some thematic elements.

Groundhog Day was watched on January 27, 2012.

Phil: “I’m A god — I’m not THE God, I don’t think.”
Rita: “Because you survived a car wreck?”
Phil: “I didn’t just survive a wreck; I wasn’t just blown up yesterday. I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned.”

Groundhog Day isn’t just an urban myth that we Americans celebrate, in order to preserve our grand, unintelligible idiocy. It’s the most overblown, morbidly puerile excuses for a holiday. For those who may be unfamiliar with the “holiday,” let me give you the gist (as if you need it, anyhow). A groundhog wakes up at dawn on February 2nd. His name is Punxsutawney Phil, and with that kind of stupid-ass name, he may as well be the mascot for…whatever baseball team there may be in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Anyhow, he looks scared to death, but there’s several people dressed in black, with top hats and overbites, that look so frightening, the groundhog is comparatively tame in appearance.

If they’re frightening enough, Punxsutawney Phil will run back into his little burrow–scared out of his wits, the poor thing. The idiots of Pennsylvania will always misinterpret that as: “He saw his shadow! Six more weeks of winter!” If the rat–excuse me, groundhog–seems disinterested or just zoned out (though according to Freudian psychotherapy, his subconscious probably wants to put itself under a guillotine), spring will come earlier and the people in Punxsutawney need to find a better way to scare the groundhog (maybe clown costumes?). Fact: spring begins the same day every year. A rodent can’t change science.

In case I have not made myself clear, I hate what happens every February 2nd. I live in Pennsylvania, for crying out loud, just a few hours away from where this event happens every year. Yet I have to go to school just as I do every other day? Some red letter day this is! Actually, if I were to count every time I’ve watched Groundhog Day on a Groundhog Day, I have enjoyed February 2nd as much as a real holiday. In other words, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the film. The first time must have been when I was in second or third grade, and I’ve only grown to love it more and more.

I find the fantasy genre almost impressively misunderstood. I’d assume that if I asked you what your favorite fantasy film was, and granted you no more than fifteen seconds to respond, you’d settle on either the Harry Potter saga or The Lord of the Rings. We’ve come to understand fantasy as those two “high fantasy” archetypes, and quite frankly, this subgenre can often be less enjoyable. Combine the fantasy genre with something light and endearing, yet deep and thoughtful, and you have genuine magic. The Purple Rose of Cairo. The Truman Show. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. These are all films with characters, tales, settings, and happenings we can all relate to in authentic ways; each film has virtually one plot twist to establish them as fantasies.

Groundhog Day takes this neat little process into a philosophical pondering. We’ve all had a day we thought was the worst day of our life, and we’ve all wondered what it would be like if we were to wake up the next morning to the same day as before. Groundhog Day ingeniously pairs the two. Phil (Bill Murray) is a weatherman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s egocentric, and it’s hard to say he loves his job, so much as he stays with it because he thinks he’s a celebrity. (He even says it to 9-1-1!) And one day, his ego takes the turn of a groundhog that has just eaten a broken record. The man is Ebenezer Scrooge for Groundhog Day. Every year, he goes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on the same story he hates and has given up on trying to fathom the hype over. He goes to bed. Glad that day’s over. Then he wakes up the next morning to the same alarm: Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” followed by a reminder that it’s Groundhog Day. And every time he goes to bed, he wakes up that way, confining the thread of spirit he once had, into six weeks of the same winter day (probably more than that, actually).

Groundhog Day is a marvelous fable. Well-written (save for the final scenes of cliché attire), well-acted, and funny like never before. The film stars Bill Murray. We’d associate him with the words “introverted” or “melancholy” just as easily as Jack Nicholson with “crazy.” Murray’s practically playing himself here, which is always a delight to know. The man is a genius when it comes to method acting. More often than not, he uses the script as a mere basis for becoming his characters, then ad libs half of it. Even with a strictly comedic director like Harold Ramis (Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation), I’d imagine Groundhog Day not being nearly as madly funny without his spontaneous input.

It’s amazing and yet so ironic how meaningful the film is, despite sharing its name with a downright meaningless festivity. The film is the soliloquy, as co-written by Danny Rubin and director Ramis. Bill Murray takes Hamlet’s namesake and begins pacing around the screen. To be or not to be for the few hours between self-destruction and alarm clock. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler for the spirit to redeem its own self-addiction, or to self-indulge on an endless clockwork. To die, to wake up again. The fair Punxsutawney Phil! Groundhog, on thy “holiday” be this review remember’d.

Phil: “It’s the same things your whole life. ‘Clean up your room!’, ‘Stand up straight!’, ‘Pick up your feet!’, ‘Take it like a man!’, ‘Be nice to your sister!’, ‘Don’t mix beer and wine, ever!’. Oh yeah — ‘Don’t drive on the railroad tracks!’
Gus: “Eh, Phil… That’s one I happen to agree with.”

A

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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4 thoughts on “Groundhog Day

    • It’s definitely in my top three, with Tootsie and Lost in Translation. Most people seem to put Stripes, Good Morning Vietnam, and/or Ghostbusters in their top three, but I’ve never gotten around to the first two, and the most I’ve seen of the last in half a decade is when I flipped through channels this year after my first annual home screening of Rocky Horror on Halloween.

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