Director: Harold Ramis
Writers: Danny Rubin (screenplay), Harold Ramis (screenplay)
Stars: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Toblowski
Well since it’s February 2nd that can mean only one thing. “Ok campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cold out there today. It’s cold out there everyday.”
Harold Ramis’s finest work in my opinion is Groundhog Day from 1993. I can honestly say that this film is one of my favourite movies of all time. The actual Groundhog Day is essentially about a Groundhog who is said to come out of its hole at the end of hibernation. If the Groundhog sees its shadow, it goes back into its hole, which portends six weeks more of winter weather.
Ramis’s film is based on this event and is set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (although actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois) Bill Murray is Phil Conners an arrogant Pittsburgh TV Weatherman who, during an assignment covering this event for the television channel along with his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and TV cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) is prepared to leave Punxsutawney once filming is done is stranded due to the adverse weather causing all the roads in and out of the area closed making Phil, Rita and Larry going back to stay in Punxsutawney over night and hopefully leaving in the morning. Phil awakens to the same song on his alarm clock (Sonny and Cher’s I got you babe) and more bizarrely the Radio DJ’s saying the exact same things they said the previous day. This of course sets Phil on a bizarre experience throughout the day convinced today’s events already happened yesterday.
I love the way Bill Murray handles that first day (of many) with confusion whether yesterday actually happened and his bewilderment is priceless. I remember watching this for the first time and having those same feelings as the character. It was almost as if the whole town was involved in one massive conspiracy against Phil because he was such a mean guy. This is Murray at his best, his cruelest best as he cuts everyone down to size that he meets with his sarcastic wit and brutal put downs. That’s not to say he doesn’t bring an emotional and sorry state to the character and in particular the last third of this movie. It has been debated for a long time now just how long Phil was stuck in the Groundhog Day loop. Some have quoted decades, others (sadistically) have said it’s closer to a thousand years. Nevertheless Murray portrays the character by the end as a lost soul serving no purpose in this day and can’t do anything about it. Not even kill himself. That is until he realises the potential of reinventing his character in a genuine way. Learning literature, studying classical music, ice sculpting and more importantly a consciousness and humility about the person he is and what he could become.
Sadly for Murray and Ramis, creative differences would result in both men not speaking to each other for a long time as they had different views on how the films tone should be. Murray could be serious when he wanted to be and felt the story should have a deep spiritual tone to it, rather than how Ramis wanted the movie to go and how it came out as a light humoured, romantic comedy. It certainly would have been interesting to see how dark Phil Conners could have been but nevertheless I love how the film came out and I personally think Ramis was right to keep it as he visioned it. It certainly gave it that timeless feel to it.
We can’t forget that although this centres around the TV Weatherman. Andie MacDowell as Producer Rita is brilliant. MacDowell has always been a great comedic actress and I think it’s fair to say that in Groundhog Day, she is the straight one and the love interest of Phil, eventually. Her performance is on par with Murray and the character is certainly a match for Phil Conners. Again the trio is complete with the brilliant and really funny Chris Elliott as Larry the cameraman. Larry is almost frightened of Phil and usually waits for Phil to not be around before he slates him and calling him a prima donna. Elliot shines near the end when Larry self auctions himself and is on the receiving end to the lowest bidder in the room being a little old lady. His reaction is priceless when he realises. Supporting the three in what must be one of the most memorable characters of the nineteen nineties is Stephen Tobolowsky’s Ned Ryerson “Bing” Tobolowsky is such an amazing actor and to see him let loose and just going for it as the irritating and tedious Ned is hilarious to witness. Believe me you will get some satisfaction from Phil decking him. I can’t review this film without mentioning the late great Angela Paton as Mrs Lancaster. Paton role is small as the landlady in the bed and breakfast Phil is staying in. Her character is confused for most of the part and Paton did such a fine job and clearly fodder for the cruel Conners.
Overall, and ironically this movie requires multiple views on a layered basis but also on an enjoyable level also. The town in which the film is shot in is beautiful to look at especially with the cold crisp look of a February day. The writing and originality of the story and how precise the managed to replicate the same day over and over again from different perspectives is short of a miracle. Murray, MacDowell, Elliot and Tobolowsky were excellent casting choices. Ramis’ humour and uniqueness is there for all to see and 25 years on its fair to say that “Groundhog Day” can now be regarded as a Classic. Highly Recommended.