I was pretty doubtful when I saw Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis in 1993, in Ebert's newest Great Movie book. I haven't seen the movie since I was a kid, and I don't remember liking it too much, because I was probably stupid. I guess I always just thought of it as a "whatever" sort of movie - everyone has seen it, but other than that, it's not that great. I'm pretty happy I was able to watch it again, because I was surprised by how funny it was and how good the story was. Bill Murray is absolutely perfect for this role, and I had so much fun watching his character. The movie definitely improved my morose mood, brought on by watching too many documentaries on On Demand.
We all know what this movie is about, since everyone at some point compares a bad day or a bad week or a bad month to it. Bill Murray plays Phil, a self-centered weatherman who is sent, every year, to report on the annual Groundhog Day events. He winds up trapped in some sort of time loop where he keeps reliving February 2nd over and over again. Nothing he does seems to really change anything - every morning all the people in the town do the exact same things, say the exact same things. He even tries killing himself several times, but wakes up in the same day anyway.
I was really surprised at how funny the movie was! I kept remembering it as some sort of really tiresome romantic comedy or something...like I said, it's been a long time since I saw it last. The comedy was great, and it didn't feel too cutesy or dumb like I was expecting. I like that Phil is often really sarcastic and cynical, and his initial disdain for the "small-town folk" was pretty hilarious.
I was also pretty surprised at how dark the movie was in places. I didn't really remember the parts where he killed himself in different ways, or where he drove himself and the groundhog off a cliff. I especially don't remember how disturbingly funny the scenes still can be. I really appreciated that the movie actually went into this territory, though. Probably everyone would try to kill themselves at some point if there were trapped in that situation, too. Ebert points out that by including these darker periods, the film mimics normal life. We all go through periods of despair, recklessness, hope, etc, but there is always tomorrow. I like that - it's oddly deep for this movie, but it works.
I usually hate movies like this that have neat, happy endings, but I liked that everything ended up working out. Ebert mentions that at the end of the movie, Phil isn't "different", but just a better version of himself. I appreciate that a lot as well. I like the whole idea of the movie. I read the Wikipedia page on the article afterward and I was really interested in the discussion about how much time actually passes for Phil. Ramis figures at least 30 or 40 years, and originally had wanted the time loop to last for thousands. Somehow thinking about that makes the whole film more interesting to me - I guess I never really thought about how long it really lasted, or how long it would actually take to get that excellent at so many different skills. I'm really happy that I didn't just send the movie back and I watched it today, even if it's going to make my evening more difficult.
Have any thoughts about Groundhog Day? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Groundhog Day
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