Bill Murray's Bad Day
There’s no better time like Groundhog Day to rewatch Groundhog Day, especially when said film has the great honor of celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. This milestone is noteworthy for two particular reasons; first, the sheer fact that in its near-quarter century of existence (Groundhog Day was released February 12, 1993, ten days after the titular holiday), Harold Ramis’s fantastical comedy gets to be as timeless and fresh today as it was back then. You know the story: curmudgeon weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) covers the annual Groundhog Day Festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania wishing he were anywhere else, gets snowed in that night by a snowstorm he failed to predict, and wakes up the next morning to February 2nd again, reliving Groundhog Day over and over until he can maybe, just maybe, turn over a new leaf. It’s not every day a film is so flawless in its execution of a high-concept premise that it gets an entire trope (the “Groundhog Day” Loop”) named after it, and Groundhog Day is much deserving. The second reason is more fascinating, as it pertains to a twenty-five year-old question undoubtedly debated at some point after viewing: just how much time does Phil spend in Groundhog Day?
The answer, obviously, would be “too long”, supported by that amusing segment in which Phil repeatedly attempts to kill himself in methods both depicted on screen (jumping off a building, electrocution by toaster in bathtub) and casually listed (stabbed, shot, poisoned, etc.) in a throwaway line. Director Ramis had famously flip-flopped on the answer, veering from an excruciating ten thousand years to a mere ten years, to ultimately settling with around thirty to forty years. The point is, there is no correct answer. Maybe Phil does spend twenty-five years trapped in February 2nd, who the hell knows? What matters is the audience can feel how excruciating it must be to never wake up on February 3rd, since the film does an impressive job at conveying Phil’s frustration, from utilizing multiple takes to play out eight versions of the same scenario in the span of under ten seconds (Phil deservingly getting slapped), to turning the sound of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” on an alarm radio into the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Repetition is key here, and Groundhog Day is absolutely dripping with it.
It’s also one of the funniest films of the decade, and for good reason: there isn’t a single joke that doesn’t land. The film takes full advantage of Bill Murray in all his deadpan glory reacting to this extraordinary dilemma with unabashed glee, in all the ways you and I would, by robbing banks, ordering everything off the menu, and getting laid (a lot, I presume). And then Murray, in total delirium, kidnaps the celebrity groundhog in a high-stakes car chase, because really, who wouldn’t? Never has such an unrelatable situation been so relatable, and so entertaining at that. In perhaps the most iconic scene in the movie, Phil matter-of-factly declares, “I’m a god”. And we chuckle, assuming with him that immortality within an infinite state of déjà vu would make one believe they are some higher power. Except, as Groundhog Day rather tear jerkingly illustrates, Phil is not a god. He can correctly predict every game show answer on TV, but he cannot save a homeless elderly man from death. Aside from being one of the most subtle touches in the film (Phil passes by the man every morning in his first few Groundhog Days, and we barely notice him), it’s moments like this that prove just how special Groundhog Day really is. What it contains in hilarity is more than matched by its humanity.
Rarely in life is anything perfect, and Groundhog Day is no exception. As much as the suicide montage is black comedy at its finest, it makes no sense that the film would abandon Phil’s point of view for a scene in which his co-workers react to his corpse, considering he would have woken up on Groundhog Day the second his body hit the pavement. And I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the romance between Phil and Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell, good enough for what the part requires), a news producer who has spent literally two days with the guy. Or I’m just being too harsh at a film I can’t stay mad at. What matters is that Groundhog Day is essential viewing, any day of the year. So do yourself a favor this February by watching this wonderful flick...and don’t forget your booties, cause it’s coooold out there today!