"You're not a god. You can take my word for it; this is twelve years of Catholic school talking." -- Rita
Director: Harold Ramis
Writer: Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis
Principal cast members:
It isn't easy to find a Harold Ramis film that deviates from his "lovable losers" formula, but this film does so with spectacular results. Groundhog Day is not only a hilarious comedy, but it is a film that offers some philosophical food for thought along with a warm-hearted love story. Bill Murray carries this fanciful vehicle much farther than it seems to have the ability to go and provides years' worth of entertainment packed into a single day.
Murray plays Phil Connors, a self-absorbed weatherman for a Pittsburgh TV station who is required to make an annual trek to Punxsutawney, PA for their Groundhog Day festivities. Through Murray's eyes, we experience the entire agonizing ordeal of his day. He awakens to oldies music and stale morning radio chatter. We see him making cynical chitchat at the bed and breakfast where his producer books him. He runs into an old high school friend who now sells insurance. He steps into a slush-filled pothole. He endures the hokey shenanigans at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney while delivering a tired, slightly cynical monologue to his producer and cameraman. After the show is over, they have lunch at the local diner, then head home.
But an unforeseen blizzard closes the turnpike which is doubly frustrating for Phil since he is a weatherman and should have foreseen the storm. The crew is forced to turn back and spend another night in Punxsutawney. The next morning, Phil awakens to the exact same morning radio patter as the day before. As he emerges from his room, he gradually comes to realize it is Groundhog Day again. He is reliving the exact same day.
At first, it is disconcerting and horrifying to Phil. He becomes jaded, angry, depressed, and even suicidal. But no matter what he does, even if he kills himself in spectacular ways, the next morning he awakens in the bed and breakfast to the exact same radio patter and another version of February 2. Phil goes through a variety of stages, indulging in high risk behavior, using his ability to relive the day to seduce women, executing broad daylight robberies and so on. Eventually, however, he begins actually doing things to make himself and the world better. He catches a child falling from a tree - repeatedly. He repairs a flat for a group of elderly women. He tries again and again to save the life of a dying homeless man but there is only so much a man can do in one day, no matter how many times he lives it.
At some point, Phil undertakes the arduous task of attempting to seduce his producer, Rita, in a single day. This proves too much of a challenge but it provides some insight. Phil begins to realize he really does like Rita and finally has to accept that he has fallen in love with her. Only then can Phil undertake the greatest task of all - winning Rita's love.
Murray turns in a brilliantly believable performance of a man in an unbelievable situation. It is one thing to react to the realization that you are reliving the same day over and over again. It is another entirely to deal with everyone around you who is not sharing that experience. Despite the fact that everything stays the same and the same events happen over and over again, Murray has to play Phil as a man who is changing, growing, adjusting despite the repetition. He does this in a wide variety of ways, but there is a subtle brilliance to Murray's effortless portrayal. McDowell is an actress who rarely dazzles until she is put in extremely vulnerable positions. In most of her dialogue with Phil, Rita is bemused but mostly aloof. She doesn't take him seriously and her detachment is clearly her means of coping with a difficult person with whom she is forced to work. It is only in the final scenes when Phil begins to reach out to her on a true emotional level that we see McDowell's performance as Rita really take life.
As Phil's cameraman, Larry, Chris Elliott turns in an entertaining if somewhat typical performance. Larry is your basic embarrassingly dorky character typical of Elliott's work. But he also provides insights into Phil's prima donna nature in the early going, establishing the background for Murray's portrayal.
One of the more entertaining small roles in the film is Stephen Tobolowsky as Phil's old high school acquaintance, Ned Ryerson. Ned is a truly annoying person who sells insurance for a living and as we establish that Phil is living the same day over and over again, we see him come up with increasingly inventive ways of getting rid of Ned. This repeated sequence provides numerous laughs during the film. Groundhog Day is a delightful comedy with plenty of laughs, but it also presents us with the philosophical challenge of evaluating the true value of time. Phil is faced with living the same day repeatedly and every morning, everything is back the way it was, with the one exception being his memory. While there is an essential element of futility in a world that keeps returning to the same moment in time, there is also an unlimited potential for growth within the man who can use that day over and over to better himself. There is a subtle underscoring of the value of living each day to its fullest.
This is Bill Murray in the spotlight providing us with his normal comedy moves, but there is also something fundamentally uplifting about seeing how he manages to change while the world around him never does.
Coolness factor: 6
Overall entertainment: 7