My guess is right about now you’re asking yourself, why in tarnation would I be inducting Groundhog Day into the vault over a week after the actual Groundhog Day has passed? An excellent question. Groundhog Day was released in theaters, not on or before its namesake’s holiday like you’d expect, but instead on February 12, 1993 making today the 20th anniversary of its release! Reaching such a milestone is a most excellent reason for revisiting the recurrent exploits of Phil Connors.
It’s the first of February and, for the fourth year in a row, Pittsburgh meteorologist Phil Connors (Bill Murray) of WPBH-TV9 is headed to Punxsutawney, PA with his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) to cover the Groundhog Day celebration. Phil gives a half-hearted report and rushes to get the hell outta Dodge, but a blizzard thwarts his escape. The next morning, the sounds of Sonny and Cher wake him at 6 a.m. just as the day before. Thinking it a mistake, Phil soon discovers by some sort of strange phenomenon Groundhog Day is afoot all over again. Phil’s simple case of déjà vu gives way to a maddening experience as he awakes to relive the day time and time again.
At first glance, Groundhog Day is just one of the many amusing Bill Murray mainstays of the 90s and that’s certainly one way to describe it. Bill Murray is easily one the funniest actors of all time, and here he’s the linchpin for making the repetitive nature of the plot tolerable. Murray’s Phil runs the gamut of emotions and reactions to his dilemma. Phil encounters confusion, aggravation, excitement, depression, bitterness, and sincerity along his journey from self-absorbed prick to a decent human being and Murray has us laughing through even the darkest of it.
From their first meeting, Phil’s smitten with his new producer Rita and Andie MacDowell imbues her with the right blend of effervescence and principles that Phil is lacking. When Phil isn’t using the many hours of this continual day to pursue Rita, he’s riffing with recognizable actors like Chris Elliott, Angela Paton and his brother Brian Doyle-Murray. Of them all, That Guy Stephen Tobolowksy is a laugh riot! As Phil’s high school buddy, Ned “the Head” Ryerson, he confronts every reunion with a fun, lively energy. Fun tidbit; keep an eye out for the now Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon in his film debut.
Based on an idea by Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis rewrote the script with Rubin and went on to direct the project. Ramis does an excellent job of handling the potentially monotonous premise. Audiences are shown a series of events in Phil’s day which are repeated to emphasize their recurrence, but Ramis injects new instances throughout to keep it from going stale. It’s easy to do since there’s an entire town ripe with silly antics.
Since its release Groundhog Day has been revisited with much praise and accolades. I had long given the movie the mild three-heart, “Liked It,” rating on Netflix, but upon watching it again, I can see why AFI and critics like Roger Ebert now hold the film in higher regard. Groundhog Day reminds us that if we find ourselves trapped in the hamster-wheel of life, we can grump and resist or we can search for a different path. Maybe becoming an adult, affected by the stresses and drudgery of life helps to truly appreciate the sentiment, or maybe occasionally I just need a good reliable, stress-relieving laugh. In either case, the answer comes back to Groundhog Day.