Groundhog Day (1993)

24 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Bill Murray is one of the funniest men…period. In any movie he appears in, he can make us smile and laugh. His deadpan voice, improvised one-liners, and his facial expressions are worth any price of admission. He raced to kill a gopher in “Caddyshack,” joined the army in “Stripes,” and helped catch ghosts in “Ghostbusters.” And now, he’s repeating the same day over and over again in the movie “Groundhog Day.” In this movie, he plays a role that could’ve been played by almost any other actor, but Bill Murray successfully makes the character convincing, funny, and even touching and also helps make the movie magical in a sense.

In “Groundhog Day,” Murray plays selfish, Scrooge-like, Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors, who is asked to cover Groundhog Day (February 2) in a small town called Punxsutawney. Nothing special—the groundhog sees its shadow, the townsfolk are upset because this means a longer winter for them, and Phil is miserable, as well as making people around him miserable. This includes his attractive co-producer Rita (Andie McDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). When he can’t go home due to a blizzard, he spends another night in Punxsutawney and when he wakes up…it’s Groundhog Day all over again.

And it will Groundhog Day again tomorrow too…and the same after that and so on. The idea is that for everybody else in town, it’s just the same as before. Only Phil is repeating the same day over and over again. Nothing he does will matter because he will wake up the next day and everything will be the same again, so there is literally no tomorrow for him—he is trapped in the same day, like a time warp.

This is a genius idea, developed by co-writer and Murray’s usual co-partner Harold Ramis (“Ghostbusters” and “Caddyshack”) and put into the situation with Phil. As he figures out what is going on, we follow him throughout. He (and we) realize that he can find out one thing and then use it the next Groundhog Day. He uses this on Rita as a seduction technique in a great scene—he finds out her favorite drink and what she likes to drink to. “I like to say a prayer and drink to world peace,” Phil says. Rita stares at him baffled and raises her drink, “To world peace.” We also realize that he won’t die. He tries many attempts at suicide, and he wakes up and it’s Groundhog Day again. But then, he realizes that he can change himself and become a better person and maybe—just maybe—he can actually wake up to February 3. And even Rita is surprised when one Groundhog Day, she begins to like him.

This is a truly endearing comic fantasy—ingenious, well-acted, and wonderful in the whole element of the time warp. It reminds me of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which a person sees the error of his ways and realizes what could be if he stuck it out longer (in this case, if he COULD stick it out longer). And through it all is Bill Murray, who is phenomenal as Phil. This is truly one of Bill Murray’s very best performances. He starts out as a Scrooge and becomes a better man towards the end and he’s very convincing in his change. He’s very funny in the first half, endearing in the second, and just great throughout. Also, his relationship(s) between him and Andie McDowell works because it’s low-key—he’s funny, she’s serious, so the only way it could work is if the relationship(s) was low-key.

“Groundhog Day” also delivers a good message. Just because we’re known to be unlikable doesn’t mean we have to stay that way; it’s our choice. And a supernatural force is helping Bill Murray realize that.

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