Spoilers feel we’ve done this before.
This one’s a rare occurrence. Technically speaking, this film is a romantic comedy. It just contains one unexplainable plot device for which it is well known, one that seems to be plucked right out of fantasy and/or science fiction. And yet, this film is neither. It’s not a perfect film, but it will always be memorable due to Bill Murray’s performance.
Groundhog Day (1993) was directed by Harold Ramis who wrote the screenplay along with Danny Rubin. Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a weatherman that covers the local festival of the Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Coming along are Rita (Andie MacDowell), a young producer, and Larry (Chris Elliott), the cameraman. Phil’s self-centered personality seems to become even worse the nicer people are with him. Most of the townsfolk don’t seem to notice.
Phil is never going to change. He’s always going to be an asshole. And that remains true until one strange phenomena occurs. Phil covers Groundhog Day, the day that Punxsutawney Phil, the town’s beloved groundhog mascot sees his shadow and predicts six more weeks of winter. The next day, he wakes up and finds himself reliving the entire day again. He’s stuck in a time loop. And chances are you knew this already.
But it’s not the time loop that really caused this movie to be seen. It’s Bill Murray’s performance as Phil, the most sarcastic jerk imaginable, that really makes this film watchable. For most of the film, we watch Phil trying to cope with reliving the day over and over. Then he realizes he can literally do anything without any consequences and decides to do what most of us dream of. He indulges in every single possible fantasy he’s ever had. They start simple, then become wilder and even turn toxic and downright illegal.
But after stealing money, sleeping around and punching out the lights of Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), Phil starts aiming for an old crush. He gathers information on Rita and tries to seduce her. It goes wrong so many times that the one time he finally manages to act somewhat human and make a meaningful change, it becomes even more devastating for him to relive the day again. This is where he gives up, where he goes completely insane and tries to off himself. This is actually a very dark place his mind seems to be.
The last part of his redemption is perhaps both the best and the worst. As he strives to be a good person and actually help the people that he learns are in harm’s way, the overall idea is that this time his character growth will actually stick. There’s a bit of a life lesson here, but here’s the part where the movie loses me. It opts to start playing the romantic angle again. I would have prefer that Phil actually becomes a better person period. The part where Rita starts seeing him in a new light, although we’ve already erased all previous moments, is a bit of a letdown.
Here’s where I think the movie slips. Phil becomes a better person for himself. When he suddenly starts attracting Rita’s attention without meaning to do so, the audience easily assimilates this was the objective all along. It seems to convey that Phil “deserves” Rita now. That’s a dangerous message of making Rita into a reward and the original point of Phil becoming better for his own sake is lost. I would have loved a more ambiguous ending in which Phil does not get the girl but learns his lesson. Yes, I know, we can’t have that – we need Phil’s solution to be “winning” Rita over because this is the romantic movie ending. Love has to be the answer. This is the film’s biggest flaw.
Highly recommended with reservations. I think it will please audiences looking for a laugh and it has a romantic ending. Bill Murray’s performance truly makes the film. I would have preferred if the movie eschewed the romantic plot at the end and actually gave us a more somber, more grounded finale but I might be in the minority here. If you already watched it, you might want to revisit it once again. And if you have never seen it and it seems familiar, you might want to check the calendar.
That will do for now.