First Time Viewing: Groundhog Day (1993)

Happy Summer Vacation (for those of you that have it)! Considering that there hasn’t been many new movies coming out these past few months except on VOD, I thought it would be a good time to catch up on some classics I’ve never seen before. Outside of Ridley Scotts’ Blade Runner (which was absolutely fantastic – but I thought would be a little difficult to review considering how layered and complex the film is – I’m not up to that caliber yet), one of the first classics I decided to watch for the first time was Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day which is what I want to talk about. Keep in mind I haven’t watched this film since April, so if I get some things wrong i apologize.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Promotional Poster for 1993’s “Groundhog Day” (dir. Harold Ramis)

Groundhog Day, released in 1993, was directed by Harold Ramis and written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, tells the story of cynical and self-obsessed TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) when he goes to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on their annual Groundhog Day ceremony. However, that one winters day for Phil soon finds itself to be his enternity, as Phil relives that day over and over again. At first he takes this as an opportunity to have no more cares and do whatever he wants, then he uses this as an opportunity to get closer and closer to his beautiful but kind producer, Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell), but later finds this as an opportunity to do things for others and aspire to be the person he never was.

There’s a great video by the YouTube channel Lessons from the Screenplay who published a video on Groundhog Day, and how the very premise of the story (what if a man had to repeat the same day over and over again?) is what forces the lead character to change. I think that video is fantastic, and also where this film truly shines: the progression- or arc – of Phil. It could be so easy to make a film that centers around the same day being repeated (with only one character knowing this phenomenon is occurring) completely, well repetitive. However, thanks to Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, their incredible screenplay is what truly makes this film a modern day classic.

I think what is especially clever is the fact that you never really know how much times he’s repeated the same day. A year? Two years? A lifetime? It makes the shifts in Phil’s character all the more believable, from being a selfish, cruel, bitter man, to finding genuine happiness in becoming more kind and selfless and eventually getting the girl, all in the course of 90 minutes. From deciding to use the time loop to live his wildest fantasies and each day as if it was (quite literally) his only day. To using the loop to try to get closer to Rita, only to find that no matter what he does, she only sees the same selfish jerk. To then trying to kill himself when he realizes that there’s no way out, and no way to find happiness. It is only then, after that incredibly dark but powerful low point, that Phil makes the decision to actually change and better himself, thus finding true happiness. It’s excellent plotting and makes more a very satisfying story.

Phil (Bill Murray) during one of his lowest points, kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) and drives of with him in a truck.

While the screenplay was one part of this film in making it work, the other part was the excellent casting of Bill Murray, who’s dry, sarcastic wit brought an entirely new and unique layer of comedy, charm, and personality to Phil and the entire film. It made what could’ve been a very dislikeable character, still dislikeable, but also someone you WANTED to see change and become the character we see at the end. That’s also not to discount the rest of the supporting cast. Andie MacDowell as Rita was particularly memorable, providing a lot of fun banter and great chemistry with Murray, but also providing a great contrast to Phil. She’s such a genuine, fun, and good person that you know Phil could never deserve her unless he changes. Chris Elliott as Larry and Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned were two other really fun standouts.

I think the only criticisms I have for the film is that there were a couple of dry spells in laughs for me, which didn’t really bother me too much because the next scene would pick up again, but I would’ve liked a few more chuckles in some scenes to keep the energy going. The tonal shift was also a little jarring for me when Phil started to try to kill himself. It was very distressing and I wasn’t sure at times if the movie was trying to play it for laughs. And though I liked how you never know how much time passed, the only disadvantage that had for me was there were times were we never see, or understand, the shift Phil makes, or what makes him change what he tries to accomplish with the time loop.

Overrall, I thought Groundhog Day was a really great film that excellently takes advantage of such a great premise! Check it out if you haven’t yet.

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