|Groundhog Day (Special Edition)|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 29 January 2002|
Anyone who fell in love with Bill Murray’s sarcastic schtick on "Saturday Night Live" and views "Groundhog Day" for the first time will be totally unprepared for the heartwarming performance the comedic actor delivers. The barbed humor, the acidic retorts, the sarcastic commentary given as asides more or less to the audience are all familiar to Murray’s fans ("Caddyshack," "Stripes," "Charlie’s Angels," "Ghostbusters"). However, a viewer who hasn’t seen the actor in his other semi-serious roles ("The Razor’s Edge," "Where the Buffalo Roam"), wouldn’t expect the performance Murray delivers in "Groundhog Day."
Murray stars as Phil Connors, a somewhat disgruntled weatherman hoping to see his career advance far beyond the small station where he is currently working. Andie MacDowell ("Multiplicity," "Bad Girls," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") plays Rita, the new producer of Phil’s weather show. Rita is innocent and impressionable, caught flat-footed by Phil’s jaded and egotistical view of himself and his job at the station, especially the yearly coverage of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog trotted out annually in the small town to forecast the weather.
On this journey to Punxsutawney, Phil’s fourth such pilgrimage, things go awry. As a complete cynic, Phil delivers the bit about the groundhog seeing his shadow with a total lack of excitement or enthusiasm, something which MacDowell’s character doesn’t appreciate. They have a brief disagreement that sets the tone for the actual love story, though the bit is downplayed rather than demanding too much attention immediately. Sure, the viewer knows that Murray and MacDowell are the romantic leads, but this is soft-pedaled throughout much of the movie until that relationship becomes the focus. "Groundhog Day" gently eases the watcher into the weirdness and life lesson that is presented throughout Murray’s performance.
Leaving Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (which is actually a small town in Illinois chosen as the setting), Phil and his intrepid companions encounter a freak snowstorm that the weatherman had predicted would miss them, cutting off their exit from town.
Despite getting lodgings at a charming bed-and-breakfast, Phil turns distinctly anti-social and abrasive, traits that bring the biting edge to Murray’s trademark comedic efforts.
Wanting nothing more than to drink himself to the end of the day while railing against fate and anyone else that happens to stand in the way, Phil goes to bed. When he wakes, the day has unexpectedly reset. Suddenly, the date is February 2, Groundhog Day once more. "Déjà vu all over again," as the great Yogi Berra would have claimed.
Phil’s discoveries about his new, never-ending world dawn every morning at 6:00 a.m. Great camera shots of a clock rolling over the numerals every morning dials the audience into a routine that at first is puzzling, then quickly becomes a trip straight to the heart of insanity and personal redemption. A traditional clock just wouldn’t have given the audience the same effect -- whoever thought of this time device is definitely to be commended.
Phil is trapped in a world he never made, at a loss to understand how such an event can happen morning after morning or why such a thing would happen to him, and Murray plays the character to the hilt. Phil Connors is Everyman, the guy that the audience can totally understand and believe in, the caustic side of him as well as the good side.
Unable to ever reach February 3, Murray’s character at first teeters on the edge of panic. While the day progresses day after day for him and he remembers everything that happened the so-called day before, he discovers that he is the only one in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania who knows what is going on. No one else in town truly lives the day over and over again. Suddenly, a part of the universe has been set aside for Phil Connors, and the unexpected stormfront has blown him straight into a version of the Twilight Zone.
The scenes in which Phil experiments with his learning curve are amazingly done. Director Harold Ramis has a nice sense of timing and pacing. The audience watches Phil’s scheming in action, reliving portions of the day as Phil Connors perfects his technique of winning over women by adding to his store of information. But the love story between Phil and Rita slowly and gently insinuates into the plot.
The love is genuine, perhaps the first genuine thing weatherman Phil Connors has come up against in years. And despite his best intentions, and they do become best, he can do nothing to act on his infatuation and growing love. He makes mistakes with Rita every night, only to begin the day all over again the next morning. Even when Phil tries to relive golden moments in their relationship (such as the impromptu snowball fight around the snowman), he fails. He’s doomed to love without being able to be loved, or even remembered. And even though he’s able to get MacDowell’s character to fall for him on some nights, the process begins again the next day.
In a while, the audience has no idea of the real amount of time that passes because the passage of time is conspicuously absent—except for 6:00 a.m., February 2, Phil Connors begins to give up. Murray plays the demented, depressed side of the character perfectly. He thinks of dozens of ways to kill himself to end the day, only to have the morning start all over again at 6:00 a.m. The movie is deliberately vague about the amount of time that passes throughout the story, and that the truly imaginative watcher room to speculate about scenes and incidents that had to have been left out in the script. The story entices the audience to imagine stories that Murray’s character went through that weren’t included.
In one particularly hilarious scene, Murray steals Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog that he believes for a short time might be the root of the time warp he’s stuck in. At the end of a long chase, Murray’s character drives the truck off a cliff. And at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, the day begins again.
Although graced by Murray’s acerbic wit and dead-on delivery, purely a product of the 1970s and 1980s, "Groundhog Day" is reminiscent of past Hollywood films of the 1940s. The storytelling is gentle and of merit, the people real, and the setting a place that could be any small town.
Chris Elliott (OSMOSIS JONES, SCARY MOVIE 2, SNOW DAY) plays Murray’s cameraman, and delivers a stellar performance, adding an extra comedic layer to the film that other actors might have seen as a chance to steal the show in parts. Instead, Elliott remains part of the background, quietly exposing Murray’s character for what he is and what he becomes.
Director Harold Ramis added a framing device to Danny Rubin’s original treatment for the script. Ramis’ addition consisted of letting the audience see Murray’s character au naturel before the changes incurred from being stuck in a time loop. But Rubin’s basic premise of a man trapped in an unchanging world who has to change himself is a beautiful story.
This DVD edition comes with special features, including Harold Ramis’ commentary over the movies, which is welcome, funny, and insightful. The background stories are enjoyable, adding an extra layer of fun to viewing the film again. The surround sound is never truly given a workout due to the low-key environment of the story. The absence of explosions or a thundering soundtrack is hardly noticeable with the job composer George Fenton does in providing a score that brings the story to life. One memorable event, though, is the jazz/blues piano number Phil plays -- the surround sound system really makes the investment worthwhile.
Anyone looking for a gentle romance, the painful thrust of Bill Murray’s sarcastic and rapier wit, or Andie MacDowell’s girl-next-door performance, will find "Groundhog Day" a welcome addition to the DVD collection. Murray provides an excellent presentation of a character trapped with only himself, able to finally stop and see the faults of his own character and life. "Groundhog Day" is a statement about the human condition, and the hope that springs eternal in those who dare to dream.