Even the funniest movies eventually stop making me laugh after I've
watched them enough times that the humor no longer surprises me. A joke
never has the same effect when you know the punch line in advance. But
every once in a blue moon, a comedy comes along that is so thoughtful
and meaningful in addition to being funny that after seeing it a dozen
times and laughing less often, I start noticing its depth and insight.
For me, no movie has so perfectly united hilarity with profundity as
"Groundhog Day," which happens to be my favorite movie of all time.
Superficially, this film belongs roughly in the same genre as "All of Me" and "Liar Liar," comedies in which a character becomes the victim of some weird supernatural fate and must adapt to the insane logic of the situation. But Steve Martin and Jim Carrey are geniuses of physical comedy, whereas Bill Murray specializes in understatement. I can't imagine any other approach having worked for this film, where the world is going crazy around Phil the weatherman, Murray's hard-edged character who keeps his emotions bottled up. What makes the initial scenes in which he first discovers his fate so hilarious is the mounting panic in his demeanor even as he tries to act like everything's normal. All he can think of to say is, "I may be having a problem." Uh, no kidding. Throughout the rest of the film, he'll deliver similarly muted lines to describe his situation, like "My years are not advancing as fast as you might think." It's striking that a man who has all the time in the world would choose his words so carefully, but it reflects a well-conceived screenplay.
In this comedy, the laughs are reinforced by repetition. The absurdity of Phil discovering that he's repeating the same day is funny enough, but every time that alarm clock goes off, and the radio starts playing, "I Got You Babe," and Phil goes through the same motions and meets the same people and then goes out into the street to be accosted by the same annoying high school buddy ("Phiiiil?"), I laugh again because I'm reminded how funny it was the first time around. People who didn't like this film (I've met one or two) emphasize how annoying it is that everything gets repeated. I sort of understand that complaint, since jokes repeated over and over usually fail miserably. "Groundhog Day," however, works uniquely well because the situation gets increasingly absurd and Phil gets increasingly desperate with each day that fails to pass.
The film would have fizzled out quickly had it spent the entire hour-and-a-half showing Phil meeting the same people and doing the same things time and again. The fact that "Groundhog Day" avoids this fate is one of its more striking qualities, since most high-concept comedies of this sort fall apart in the third act. "Groundhog Day" is a rare example of one that completely follows through with its premise, leading from the initial situation logically to the ending. Only the Jeopardy scene feels like a skit that could have appeared anywhere. But this scene actually is placed wisely: it occurs when Phil is becoming increasingly bored and lethargic, and it is used to separate two hilarious scenes where he gives nutty television reports.
It is in the middle, centering on Phil's attempts to seduce Rita, when the film reveals itself to be more than just a comedy. The underlying implication of these scenes is that Phil's powers are less important than he thinks they are. He probably could have done the same things (such as his exploits with Nancy) under ordinary circumstances, without the hocus pocus. In the end, his powers don't matter, because Rita is too smart and sees right through him. She may not understand the full supernatural implications of what he's doing, but she senses that he's somehow manipulating the situation. Phil may think he's a god, but he isn't all-powerful.
Phil's character development is convincing largely because we can so easily believe the situation would force him to look inward. Because he loves such a sincere woman as Rita, the only way he can finally impress her is by genuinely changing himself rather than faking it. The change he undergoes isn't an implausible leap, for he maintains many of the same basic character traits he had at the beginning, even though he becomes kinder and more caring. Earlier, Rita says that egocentrism is Phil's "defining characteristic," and, indeed, he doesn't stop being egocentric at the end; he merely learns to channel the egocentrism in a positive direction.
I have trouble imagining any other actor having pulled this off. Murray is not the only comic actor to have proved himself capable of dramatic depth, but he's one of the few who can so seamlessly combine his humorous and serious side into the same character. And he's a master at conveying complex emotions through an apparent deadpan. When his delivery sounds stilted in this film, the effect is intentional, for he's playing a man whose life has become a script.
Though this film has a serious message, it is still quintessentially a comedy. But it's a comedy that uses psychological exploration of a fascinating character to make its point. After the laughter has worn down, "Groundhog Day" turns out to be one of the richest and deepest films I've ever seen.
Action / Comedy / Drama / Fantasy / Romance
Action / Comedy / Drama / Fantasy / Romance
On February 1, self-centered and sour TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Bill Murray), news producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) from fictional Pittsburgh television station WPBH-TV9 travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities with Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog. Having grown tired of this assignment, Phil grudgingly gives his report during the festival and parade.After the celebration concludes, a blizzard develops that Connors had predicted would miss them, closing the roads and shutting down long-distance phone services, forcing the team to return to Punxsutawney. Connors awakens the next morning, however, to find it is February 2 again, and his day unfolds in almost exactly the same way. Connors can change his behavior, but other people do and say the same things they did and said the previous day, unless Connors changes something. He is aware of the repetition, but everyone else seems to be living February 2 for the first time. This recursion repeats the following morning and the one after that, and over and over again. For Connors, Groundhog Day begins each morning at 6:00 A.M., when he wakes up in his room in a Victorian bed and breakfast. His clock radio is always playing the same song, Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe." His memories of the "previous" day are intact, but he's trapped in a seemingly endless time loop, repeating the same day in the same small town.After briefly trying to rationalize his situation, and then thinking he is insane, Connors takes advantage of learning the day's events and the information he is able to gather about the town's inhabitants, and finds that his actions have no long-term consequences for himself. He revels in this situation for a time: seducing beautiful women, stealing money, even driving drunk and experiencing a police chase. However, his attempts to seduce his producer, Rita, are met with repeated failures. He begins to tire of, and then dread, his existence, starting the day by smashing the alarm clock and professing the inanity of Groundhog Day as a holiday in his newscast. In a vain attempt to break the cycle, he kidnaps Phil the Groundhog. After a police pursuit, Connors drives a stolen truck into a quarry, causing both man and rodent to die in a fiery explosion; but the loop does not stop. He commits suicide several more times. He electrocutes himself, lets a truck hit him on the road, and jumps from a tall building (other attempts are alluded to) but mere death cannot stop the day from repeating. After he dies, he simply wakes up listening to Sonny & Cher in the same bed, on the same day, over and over again.He initially tries to seduce Rita by learning as much as he can on a daily basis. First he asks what she wants in a man: someone who is humble, kind, generous, courageous, and sensitive; someone who likes children; someone who loves his mother and plays a musical instrument. He learns what she likes (rocky road ice cream, sweet vermouth, French poetry) and what she doesn't like (white chocolate) and pretends to share her tastes. This also fails consistently; in scene after scene, Rita slaps him before the night is over. However, he is able to befriend her in a more sincere fashion. He tells her of his circumstances -- how he is reliving the day over and over again -- and manages to convince her of the truth with his extensive knowledge of events to come, the lives of the Punxsutawney townspeople, and Rita herself.He opens his heart to Rita, and her advice helps him to gradually find a goal for his trapped life: as a benefactor to others. He cannot, in a single day, bring others to fulfill his needs but he can achieve self-improvement by educating himself on a daily basis. After seeing an elderly homeless man die, Connors vows that no one will die on "his" day and performs many heroic services each and every repeating day, including performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking man and saving a little boy who falls from a tree. However, he becomes despondent at being unable to save the homeless man, despite trying to get him medical care. When he demands to see the man's medical chart, a nurse tells him "sometimes people just die." "Not today," Connors replies, but he never manages to prevent it.Though the film does not specify the number of repetitions, there is enough time for Connors to learn many complex skills, such as how to play jazz piano, speak French, sculpt ice, and memorize the life story of almost everyone in town. He also masters the art of flipping playing cards into an upturned hat, which he offhandedly suggests takes six months.(According to Danny Rubin, who shares screenwriting credit with the director, the intent in the original script was for the time-frame of Connors' repeating days to be ambiguous, but longer than a single lifetime. The studio objected to this, asking that it be reduced to two weeks. Director Harold Ramis tried to leave the time-frame loop ambiguous as how many times Connors re-lives February 2, but it is strongly speculated by Connors (and the viewers) to be at least 10 years.)Eventually, Connors enhances his own human understanding which, in return, makes him an appreciated and beloved man in the town. Phil is able to befriend almost everyone he meets during the day, using his experiences to save lives and help the townspeople. In the process, he gets closer to Rita. He crafts a report on the Groundhog Day celebration so eloquent that all the other stations turn their microphones to him. After the big Groundhog Day evening dance, Rita and Phil retire together to Phil's room. They believe that if Rita's there, the cycle may be interrupted. He wakes the next morning in bed with Rita (they're both still fully clothed) and finds the time loop is broken; it is now February 3. Phil is a different person than he was on February 1 and, after going outside, Phil and Rita talk about living in Punxsutawney together. Connors suggests: "We'll rent to start."The closing song is "Almost Like Being in Love" from Brigadoon, a musical which also dealt with a village trapped in time.
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March 26, 2012 at 11:22 AM