Groundhog Day (1993) Revisited
I have to admit I didn't care much for "Groundhog Day," Harold Ramis' comedy with Bill Murray, when I first watched it in '93. I loved both Mr. Murray and Mr. Ramis but what "Groundhog Day" got me was the same Bill Murray doing what he does best, curmudgeonly battling the world, while repeating scenes over and over again. I thought the ending was contrived and the romance forced. That's what I remembered about it.
But through the years it has shown up on a lot of favorites lists and top Bill Murray films. I would usually huff about it and walk away satisfied with people's deficiency in artistic sensibilities. But this past Groundhog Day I happened to see it listed on my On Demand programming and decided to see if the passing of time would affect my judgement of the movie.
And it did. Nobody plays Bill Murray better then Bill Murray and he is on his game here. He is partnered with Andie MacDowell and a young Chris Elliott both playing opposite types to Murray and their scenes pay off for it. Mr. Elliott as the sweet agreeable cameraman and MacDowell as the intelligent and sensitive producer. They're both the ingredients needed to divert the repetition from turning into schtick.
But watching this film again, aged twenty-seven years, helped me get swept away in the undercurrents. Murry's guy hates people and doesn't have much use for them. And when he's assigned to Punxsutawney, PA to cover Groundhog Day it must have been like visiting one of the rings of hell with a town filled with good natured folksy residents, the complete antithesis to the Murray character. Surrounded by friendliness and singing at dawn Murray's antagonism grows and plans to make a quick exit. Unfortunately for him he's stuck because of a blizzard, of which he saw coming but went out on the limb, perhaps it was wishful thinking, to say it would pass them- talk about a weatherman being wrong.
So, stuck in this town with the type of people he despises, he wakes up the next morning to live Groundhog Day all over again. And again. And again. This is where the film lost me the first time but this time it is where it hooked me. This turn in Murray's life is a welcomed dramatic turn in the movie and instead of being bored by the technical mechanism of the story I was intrigued by the meaning. What would happened if someone was stuck in a single day? Or, in a rut? Or, in a dead end job? The metaphors kept flying at me and how Murray's character dealt with it all kept up the suspense.
Murray's character wouldn't have much fight in him or look for ways to take advantage of the situation so he does what his unscrupulous intuition leads him to do and that's to cause havoc knowing he wouldn't be held responsible in the morning since his record would be erased the next day. Once, however, the thrill of immunity wears off depression sets in. But this recycling of a day in his life cripples any attempt to cut it short.
With no end in sight and no way to get himself out mercifully Murray accepts his plight and begins to better himself. I don't know what Ramis is saying about people. But it does raise an interesting question; when there is no hope of breaking out of a desperate cycle does the good rise up within human nature and push us to better ourselves? Would that be the choice over boredom? It certainly is when it comes to filming a story. That's the road Murray takes. He uses his advantage to steal the affections from the women in town. He soon reaches out for MacDowell whose intelligence, sensitivity and inquisitiveness seems unreachable for him.
This love story starts as MacDowell is Murray's target for conquest but each time he's unsuccessful at breaking through her rectitude. This failure palnts the seed of respect in him and his conquest turns to admiration and then to love. The growth is what makes this film so compelling and different from most of Murray's earlier works which is probablyt a reason I dismissed it the first time. But today it engaged me. We know where the ending is leading to but the road it took to get there is the genius of the film. I now see why its on the top of many lists.