Dear Groundhog Day,
It is strange to think that to this day it still shocks me when people claim that they have never seen you before. To me, you are such an intrinsic part of my life, of my pop-culture repertoire, that the idea of anyone being ignorant of your charms is simply beyond me.
Yet, despite my deep and abiding love for you, I find it hard to full articulate what it is about you that creates this deep, warm, almost paternal love for you in me. On your surface you are at best a clever idea with a coddling moral at your center. Somehow, though, you find the human core in this idea, and mine it for every kind of comedic triumph that could have been hoped for.
Phil, An egotistical weatherman (Bill Murray) goes to Puxatony, Pa. to cover the annual Groundhog Day Festival. He finds this entire exercise below him and acts like a petulant child as a result. A snowstorm keeps him in the small town an extra night, and when he wakes up the next morning it is the previous morning. He is stuck in a time-loop that is interminable, even in death, and never explained. In the end, he learns the value of helping others, being kind, and falls in love.
Would someone have told me this when I first set down to watch you, I think I might not have even bothered to try to like you. Yet the inclusion of Bill Murray and a trailer involving a groundhog at the wheel of a truck made me give you a chance. Since that day, I don’t think more than 4 months go by without watching you.
I think perhaps your greatest asset is in your casting. Bill Murray, of course, is the centerpiece and linchpin of your charming nature. He can take a character who is childish in his mannerisms, self-centered, insanely self-important, and incapable of empathy, and yet invests him with a kind of twisted charisma that one cannot help but love. His actions begin at bad, become worse, and yet somehow he earns and makes believable a complete 180 degree shift in character. He begins by exploiting those around him, then experiences crushing despair and boredom with his seeming omnipotence, and then realizes his finds more joy and satisfaction in helping others than helping himself. Trite, played out, and yet through the prism of this man and this character this is made into a full uplifting moment.
Your secondary characters are likewise memorable and perfectly suited for creating a re-watchable yet fresh experience. Ned, an old classmate of Phil’s, is the perfect distillation of a friendly, personable, interminably annoying human being. Larry, the lame but affable cameraman, is just the kind of person with so many faults that one can’t blame people for not liking him, yet can’t help but pity him, either. Finally, Rita, the new producer sent to keep Phil in line, serves as the perfect foil to Phil in every way. She is honest, idealistic, loving, and full of joy over the prospect of spending time in a small town covering, as Phil says, a weather forecasting “rat.”
Still, without interesting and impactful comedy set-pieces, all of this fine character work would be for not. Luckily, you can walk the walk and talk to talk in terms of brilliant comedy. Montages of Phil’s attempts to woo Rita, his trials at stopping the time-loop, and his varied reactions to the same events all provide a reliable backbone of laugh-out-loud moments. Your dialogue, likewise, is a brilliant and at times absurd, perfect for repeat viewings and real-world quoting.
You are the type of rare film, Groundhog Day, that to examine you almost seems sacrilegious. Were someone to ask me about you, I would say, “Just see it.” To explain any further the events that occur over the course of Phil’s unknowable amount of time stuck in Puxatony would rob you of much of your charm.
Suffice to say, however, that within you are moments of such surprising comedy and humanity that the only thing even more incompressible to me than someone never having seen you, is someone not loving you as well.
Can’t wait to see you repeatedly,
Brian J. Roan