Posted on June 17, 2018
Groundhog Day (1993)
Groundhog Day is a comedy film directed by Harold Ramis that stars Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliot.
The film focuses on Phil Connors, a weatherman stuck in time who is forced to relive the same day over and over.
This film is Michael Shannon’s film debut as Fred.
The Story (SPOILERS)
The film centers around Phil Connors, a Weatherman for Pittsburgh. He goes with his new producer Rita Hanson and a cameraman named Larry to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
He is forced to cover the same Groundhog Day festival that he has covered for the last three years.
Phil makes it clear that he hates the holiday, town, and the “hicks” who live there. Refusing to stay at the town hotel, Rita booked him a room at a local bed and breakfast.
Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” plays on the clock radio, waking him up the following morning. Phil meets an excited tourist at the stairs and confirms 100% that he will be departing to Mrs. Lancaster, the operator of the Inn.
On his way to the festival, he runs into someone from his high-school (Ned Ryerson) and steps in a puddle. He then proceeds to begrudgingly tape a report on Punxsutawney Phil and the town’s celebration.
Rita wants to stay to cover other town events, but Phil wants to return early to Pittsburgh. A blizzard keeps them from leaving, angering Phil.
He retires to bed early and skips the town’s party, choosing instead to aim for a hot shower (that he can’t take at the Inn) and to look at Hustler.
Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe” plays on the clock radio, waking him up the following morning. Hearing the same announcement from the radio, he believes that they played yesterday’s tape. Phil meets an excited tourist at the stairs and confirms 75-80% that he will be departing to Mrs. Lancaster, the operator of the Inn.
On his way to the festival, he runs into someone from his high-school (Ned Ryerson) and steps in a puddle. Confused, he proceeds to begrudgingly tape a report on Punxsutawney Phil and the town’s celebration.
Phil wakes to “I Got You Babe” and discovers that Groundhog Day’s events keep repeating exactly. Phil is trapped in a time loop that no one else is aware of and re-lives February 2nd every day, over and over.
To test this theory, he breaks a pencil at his nightstand and it is fixed the following day. He visits a doctor (the director of the film, Harold Ramis) and a psychiatrist, who don’t believe him (How’s tomorrow for you?).
Annoyed, Phil gets drunk at a bowling alley with Ralph and Gus, lamenting his troubles to the two local townsfolk.
Realizing there are no consequences for his actions, he starts to do whatever he wants.
As he learns from the events of the day, he finds opportunities to entertain himself. This mainly involves him breaking the law, having one-night stands, and robbing a bank.
Becoming bored by the lack of risk, he starts to date Rita. His attempts to sleep with her fail every time, mainly because his self-centered actions don’t work on her.
He becomes quickly depressed and commits suicide several times, unable to escape the loop with each successive death.
Phil, believing himself to be a god, tries to explain his situation to Rita. He accurately predicts the day’s events and they both spend a whole day together, but Phil wakes up alone.
Becoming more humble, he begins to better himself and the lives of others by learning to play the piano, sculpt ice, and become a doctor, but is unable to prevent the death of a homeless man.
During one loop, Phil reports on the Groundhog Day festivities with genuine depth and warmth, amazing Rita. Phil runs his usual philanthropic errands, helping others around town and saving who he can from annoyance or death.
Phil plays with the band at the evening celebratory party and is placed up for charity auction as a date. Rita out-bids the others for a date with Phil, who sculpts her face out of ice. They kiss and Phil is finally happy.
Phil wakes to “I Got You Babe” again, but finds Rita is still in bed with him. Excited by there being change, he finds that he escaped the time loop. The film ends with Phil and Rita running down the street, ecstatic and in love.
Groundhog Day is an anomaly. There is no single reason why this film ended up as great as it did. Perhaps it was the writing not forcibly dating it in the 90’s. Maybe it was the performances finding humor and charm in a considerably bleak story. For whatever reason, this film became an instant classic that still holds up.
Content-wise there isn’t much to complain about. Character growth is a topic that any age can enjoy, because developed characters are what great films aspire towards.
The suicidal aspect is bleak, but it was played slightly for comedy after no harm impacts Phil. Larry’s reactions suggest this and it doesn’t remain the focus for too long.
While not overly humorous, the situation is funny enough that it doesn’t need to rely on many repeated jokes. The focus on its solid structure keeps it grounded enough that most viewers can enjoy this film.
In my opinion, this is one of the best Comedy/Drama films of all time. I regularly re-visit it every year and I never get tired of watching it.
P.S. I also highly recommend the musical adaption by Danny Rubin and Tim Minchin. Most of the songs are charming, funny, and clever. One Day is my favorite. Check it out if you get a chance.