Groundhog Day takes a sci-fi premise, grounds it with a banal everyday backdrop and then squeezes every last drop of humour out of the premise without obvious sightgags and cheesy jokes.
It is, simply put, Bill Murray’s best comedic effort, and he doesn’t have to resort to hamming it up Caddyshack style, the film that makes best use of his personality by letting him be himself… almost.
Bill plays Phil Connors, a local small market weatherman who like most others in the role, must turn up the wackiness to add levity to the normal stoic newscast. Phil has vast delusions of grandeur and feels that he is deserved of a far better career fate, even though he seems content with coasting through the working day.
Part of a weatherman’s lot is covering crappy small town gimmick days like fetes and quirky events, I guess to show that the network understands and supports the “everyday folks” in Anytown USA. This particular annual event is Groundhog Day in Punxsatawney Philadelphia, I developed a bad case of RSI just typing that name.
Before this film Groundhog Day referred to an annual festive event, purely for ceremony’s sake, where locals made a big fuss by dragging a groundhog from a box whose “powers” were supposed to include an ability to predict either the end of spring or an longer than usual Winter. (Thanks to this film Groundhog Day now means something akin to déjà vu.)
So Phil, his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and the cameraguy Larry (Chris Elliott) cram into a van and head to the venue for a night’s sleep prior to next day’s telecast.
Come 6 am Phil awakes to find the day bitterly cold, and the day’s events and weather forecast pan out fairly uneventfully. On the way out of town though a blizzard prevents their departure back to the city and the trio must spend another night in sleepy Punxs-etc, much to Phil’s chagrin.
The next morning seems somehow familiar to Phil, he finds that for some inexplicable reason he is reliving the events of the previous (Groundhog) day. He has the same encounters with locals, the same discussions with Rita and Larry, he is even expected to give the same weather forecast that he gave (his) previous morning. Phil is a little more than bemused at this turn of events, as everyone around him is oblivious to these new-but-same circumstances. Only Phil is capable of doing things differently; and influencing others to do things differently from the initial day.
Kooky ain’t it? The strength of Groundhog Day is that it doesn’t try to explain how and why the anomaly occurs, but once it is established Phil will be reliving the same day it deals with it in a realistic enough fashion that you accept the situation and wait to see if and how Phil will extricate himself from it. And this is where much of the humour lies, Bill Murray is funny enough to begin with, putting him in a situation where he is able to riff and react to events without much thought of repurcussions or responsibility is like letting him off the leash and saying “Go nuts” – and he does just that, only in the deadpan can-you-believe-this? Bill Murray way.
After the second Groundhog Day pans out Phil goes through many stages:
1) Disbelief. Maybe if I rub my eyes enough this will all change back?
2) Acceptance. Well I guess I can’t change this, let’s ride it out.
3) Manipulation. Well I guess while I’m here I might as well have fun with this.
4) Misuse. Exactly what can I get away with?
5) Learning / Planning / Scheming. If I put some thought into this I can pull off something big!
6) Resignation. I’ve had enough, what can I do just to end this?
7) No escape. Well that didn’t work, I give up.
8) Desperation. You gotta believe me! I’m not making this up.
9) Upskilling & Change. Maybe it’s me who is broken?
As Phil progresses through the process he turns gradually from a sarcastic and cynical self-centred bastard and gradually smoothes his rough edges away, sarcasm turns to wit, put-downs to jokes and using people turns to helping people. A little saccharine sounding right? Well perhaps in the wrong hands, but here there is a real sense of achievement once Phil finally gets somewhere. There are down periods too, Phil gets slapped more than a few times, experiences some real loss and failure when dealing with a homeless person, and gives up in the most final of ways many, many times. Other guys with even more time on there hands than I have estimated that Phil spends between 6 and 12 months reliving the same day, that’s enough for a lot of crazy moods swings, planning and antics.
Aside from all this it must be said that the film is extremely funny, aside from Bill Murray’s tour de force as Phil Andie MacDowell plays the straight, slightly bemused love interest role well, Elliott as Larry is OK in a bit role and the people that Phil encounters momentarily, but in the same way every day all add a chuckle or two.
Same as Scrooged though not much of this would be as good without Murray, he elevates the material a good couple notches higher, only this time the film was very good before he got involved, his inclusion made it great.
Final Rating – 9 / 10. There are a hell of a lot of movies I wouldn’t want to relive again, thankfully this is not one of them.