GROUNDHOG DAY - Golden Oldies On the Big Screen
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tuesday, Feb. 2, is Groundhog Day, so a few theaters in town are reviving a ’90s comedy classic … yes, that’s right, ‘Groundhog Day.’ Despite his lengthy filmography, this remains my favorite of Bill Murray’s many pictures, a nearly perfect blend of fantasy and comedy that maintains its balancing act to a surprisingly successful and inventive degree for 101 minutes. It will play in several local Cinemark and Megaplex theaters over the next week. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 12, 1993.
"Groundhog Day" casts Bill Murray as a self-centered, arrogant TV weatherman, a role tailor-made for his typically cynical, sarcastic screen persona. But what may surprise audiences is how successfully Murray steers the character toward a more sensitive persona as the film winds down.
Much of the credit for this must also go to director/co-producer/co-writer Harold Ramis, who has collaborated with Murray previously on "Meatballs," "Stripes," "Caddyshack" and the "Ghostbusters" pictures.
Looking at that lineup, one would hardly expect Murray and Ramis to come up with a gentle, sweet-natured romantic comedy that wanders into high-minded Frank Capra territory. But, toss in a "Twilight Zone" twist, and that's precisely what "Groundhog Day" is, right down to an optimistic ending that is surprisingly satisfying. (Even more surprising — and satisfying — is that even in the film's later scenes, the comic edge never lets up.)
Bill Murray, left, Stephen Tobolowsky, 'Groundhog Day' (1993)
Murray is Phil Connors, a Philadelphia TV weatherman making his annual trek to Punxsutawney, where he will reluctantly cover the Groundhog Day ceremonies. With him are his new, enthusiastic producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and wide-eyed cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott).
Rita puts Phil up at a local bed-and-breakfast nook, while she and Larry take less expensive digs, and all agree to meet the next morning, bright and early, to tape their story during the celebration.
The next day, Phil's alarm clock kicks in at 6 a.m. to the strains of Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You, Babe," followed by typical disc jockey banter. Phil bumps into a jovial guest in the hall, chats briefly with the proprietor at breakfast and then, on his way to the town square, encounters a beggar and an overbearing acquaintance who remembers him from high school.
After their work is done, Phil, Rita and Larry try to head home but a blizzard closes the roads and the trio is stuck in Punxsutawney for yet another day. The next morning when Phil's alarm clock goes off, it's the same song, the same disc jockey banter and he runs into all the same people who say exactly the same things. And so it is when he awakens the next morning, and the next, and the next.
Yes, Phil is stuck in a time warp, and it's more than a little disconcerting since he is the only person who realizes it.
At first, he's perplexed. But as he catches on to his situation, he uses information gathered from the day before to manipulate others. Until he tries to hit on Rita and finds that no amount of prior knowledge is enough crack her resistance to him.
Then, as immortality becomes boring and his routine becomes insufferably redundant, Phil realizes that if he's ever going to get on with his life, he must sincerely change.
There is the potential, of course, for material like this to go flat but the screenplay, by Ramis and first-timer Danny Rubin, along with Ramis' deft, rapid-fire direction, uses every possible comic twist so that the film never drags or seems ponderous.
Murray is first-rate and MacDowell complements him very well, helping to soften some of his character's harder edges. Elliott is also a lot of fun, though woefully underused. And, as the high school acquaintance, Stephen Tobolowsky makes a distinct impression.
"Groundhog Day" is, arguably, the best movie yet for Murray and Ramis.
It is rated PG for violence (comic suicide attempts, etc.) and discreet sex. There is no profanity.