Bill Murray stars as Phil, a cynical, obnoxious weatherman who hates his life in general and his job in particular. His latest assignment, reporting Groundhog Day from the small town of Punxsutawney, doesn’t really help. Everything goes wrong, and that day might be the worst of his life. But things are about to get even worse. When Phil wakes up the next day, there’s one little problem: this ain’t the next day, it’s still February 2nd, Groundhog Day. For some reason, Phil is doomed to live the same day over and over and over. And that’s just the premise of this wonderful time-warped fantasy. This is one of these films that’s always taking you to unexpected places. It’s always intelligent and hilarious, and it sometimes gets irresistibly romantic or delightfully cynical. It’s extraordinary how the film balances such different moods without ever taking a wrong turn.
Let’s credit writer-director Harold Ramis, who has made a bunch of fun flicks through the years, but this is really another ballpark. It’s very impressive to see how refreshing the film always is, even after we’ve gone through the same day dozens and dozens of times. Many sequences are brilliantly crafted, especially the ones in which Phil experiments with his new condition. Music is also very well used. Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe becomes a nightmarish anthem, and the classic piano riff of A Little Rachmaninoff & a Single Rose hasn’t been scored that memorably since John Holmes’ “Hard-core Spectacular Special”!
“Groundhog Day” is a comedy that aims for more than entertainment. Ramis uses the goofy idea of a man stuck in the same day forever to explore the matters of life, death and love. This is a film about how a flawed man finds the way to happiness. This is about using the time you’ve got for the things that are really important, about doing the right thing, about being kind to others, about seizing the day. This kind of uplifting mumbo jumbo could seem corny, but Ramis is too much of a smart-ass to take himself too seriously. His film is uplifting, but in a subtle, natural way.
Let’s also send kudos to the amazing Bill Murray, who’s definitively one of the funniest actors in Hollywood. Even though his films aren’t all very good, he’s always funny. “Groundhog Day” is his absolute best performance. Phil is a complex, three-dimensional character who truly evolves through the film, which gives Murray the chance to show all he’s capable of, from sarcasm to charm and heroism. The more romantic parts of the film also work thanks to the beautiful and talented Andie MacDowell. She is really charming in a natural, un-bimbo kind of way. It’s also fun to see her having some fun after her cold and dramatic turn in Steven Soderbergh’s “sex, lies and videotape”. The film also features Chris Elliot, always amusing as Phil’s dorky cameraman.
Anyway, “Groundhog Day” is truly a film that deserves to be seen. It’s one of my favorite movies for the way it always makes me laugh without underestimating my intelligence and makes me feel good without pumping sunshine up my ass. This is Capra for the ’90s.