It’s Groundhog Day, so it seemed only reasonable to make Abigail Burdess watch Bill Murray being stuck in a time loop. Again.
What and why: So this is some sweet irony, huh? Judging if Groundhog Day has dated. Because it can’t, do you see? Eh? Groundhog Day is always Groundhog Day. You know the premise, right?
Groundhog Day is the story of selfish, world-weary weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) who returns to small-town Punxsutawney with innocent producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) to report, for the fourth time, on ‘Groundhog Day’ – a local tradition in which a groundhog predicts the weather: “It’s going to be a long winter.”
Phil gets stuck, first in town, by a blizzard, and then, magnificently, in the same day: Groundhog Day, until he learns to appreciate the now, and other people, and is rewarded with the love of Rita and the town he once despised.
The film came out in 1993. It was written by Danny Rubin, with the film’s director, Harold Ramis, and rewrites were influenced by having Bill Murray, with whom Ramis had worked on (among other things) Ghostbusters, attached. Ramis made a bunch of great films, but judging by his Wikipedia entry, Rubin, having written Groundhog Day, seems to have taken the rest of his life off – which, to my mind, is fair enough.
“Even after selfish Phil has become selfless Phil, on the last Groundhog Day, when he catches a kid falling out of a tree, he still calls the kid a ‘little bastard’. Phil is still, like us, a bit of a prick.”
Rated or dated: Full confession: I think this is the best film ever made. I don’t remember where I first saw it. But I remember watching it over and over again. And now I have to watch it one more time! It’s like Groundhog Day! This joke could run and run. I may not have to write this article at all.
But wait. What if this viewing of Groundhog Day is different? What if, this time, the magic doesn’t work? What if, this time, the movie changes The Viewer, me, from ‘adoring’ to ‘cynical’ in direct opposition to Bill Murray’s character arc?
SPOILER ALERT! That did not happen! In fact, by the end I felt wonderful, like sniffing the night air, or writing a movie, which is how I feel whenever I watch Groundhog Day: I mean, it was like Ground… alright I’ll stop.
The film’s middle section is still both hilarious and heartbreaking. Phil’s futile suicide attempts are bleakly brilliant; the part where he, having had one delightful date with Rita, tries desperately to recreate the conditions which made her like him, made me wince, as I’m sure would anyone who’s had a relationship longer than three days.
My favourite joke is still funny – Phil asks a couple of small-town drunks, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? The small-towners knock back a drink: “That about sums it up for me.”
The naive character of ‘I-drink-to-World-Peace’ Rita, and her characterisation by the sugary MacDowell – has been criticised, by OTHER PEOPLE. I think as a saccharine foil to Murray’s cynicism, she is perfect, and she’s allowed, as Phil sloughs off his weariness, to reciprocally lose a few feathers from her wings.
In fact, the only thing which made me blink, apart from the startling lily-whiteness of the entire cast, was the sequence in which Rita slaps the crap out of Phil, technically her employee. But the voice in my head squeaking, “What if that was the other way round?” was quickly drowned out by the voice shouting, “BUT IT WASN’T THE OTHER WAY ROUND.” Phil is the star, he has the power, and within the story, he deserves it. Slap, slap slap. Rita – Phil’s Zen master – whacks him in the face as we laugh at him.
Because Phil doesn’t learn fast. Change Is Hard For We Are Stupid. As the comedy-writing teacher Steve Kaplan has pointed out, even after selfish Phil has become selfless Phil, on the last Groundhog Day, when he catches a kid falling out of a tree, he still calls the kid a ‘little bastard’. He is not, as he earlier claimed ‘a God’. Phil is still, like us, a bit of a prick.
I love it because it’s profound BECAUSE it’s funny. How ludicrous! To believe we can change. But still we try. In offering its main character a thousand lifetimes, it offers its audience the same – and what else is the offer of art?
In depriving Phil Connors of his future, it rewards him with his present. “Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.” And that is our reward too, for watching the movie – to notice our now. Just for a moment. Until our attention wanders and we need another reminder that THIS IS IT GUYS! THIS MOMENT, HOWEVER OFTEN IT OCCURS, IS THE ONLY MOMENT YOU WILL EVER GET. To notice the present we, too, need a thousand lifetimes. And we’re not getting them anywhere else.
Groundhog Day is evergreen. I hope to watch it again. And again. Again. RATED.
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Abigail writes comedy for the telly, radio and stage. She is also sometimes allowed on them. But not so’s you’d notice. @AbigailBurdess