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When the gods wish to punish us...
9/10 In Harold Ramis's "Groundhog Day" (1993), an intriguing comedy about repeating the past, Bill Murray is Phil Connors, an arrogantly self-centered and cynical TV weatherman, sent for the fifth time to the small town of Punxsutawney, PA to cover the Groundhog ceremony held every February 2nd. He stumbles into a time warp and winds up repeating the same day over and over again until forced to look at himself from the distance and to examine his attitude.4 years ago
I love this movie not only it is one of the best, most original, clever and funniest comedies I've seen, it also makes you think of the serious questions. For instance, when Gods want to punish a mean, arrogant SOB, they would not take his sanity away they will make the whole world around him mad and let him deal with the situation. Or another question, what would you do if you have eternity on your hands? Is it a curse or blessing?
Groundhog Day does not reuse tired and stupid jokes; its humor comes from the situations and characters. Bill Murray was born to play Phil Connors and movie uses his talent as a comedian to the fullest. I think it was the best role Murray ever played. His character has gone through transformation before our eyes, and it was very convincing.
Much, much more than just a comedy
10/10 Taken as a light comedy, this movie would rate perhaps eight stars out of ten. But it's much, much more than just a light comedy. It is, in fact, utterly unique. The character of Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, is, quite literally, a man without a future.4 years ago
What do we gain from watching this movie? Different people will take away different things from it. I discovered two very important truths in Groundhog Day.
One was the importance of concentrating on the things that last. Phil Connors must live the same day over and over again, and is forced to realize that the only real change that will ever be possible must happen within himself. (From this it is a short leap to the realization that this is the only kind of change that really matters; for in his case, it is literally true.) It is at this point that he takes up piano, begins reading, learns to ice-sculpt. But if it weren't for his unique predicament, he never would have realized this; in his routine at the TV studio back in Pittsburgh, we surmise, there was always something changing...and not changing. (It is interesting that Phil is a weatherman: the weather is a perfect metaphor for something that changes constantly...without, in the long term, changing at all.) We can be distracted by the superficial changes in the world around us, and forget that real change in our lives must come from within. This was the great gift of Groundhog Day for Phil Connors: the chance to discover this truth for himself.
The other thing I noticed, while reflecting on this movie, is how uncertainty can keep us from charitable acts. We use our ignorance like a crutch: we don't give to charity because it may be a scam, we don't offer to help someone because they may not need help anyway, and so on. But Phil doesn't have the luxury of ignorance. He knows...he knows with absolute certainty that if he doesn't buy the old man a bowl of soup, that man will die in the streets within a few hours. He knows that if he isn't on hand at the right time, a boy will fall from a tree and break his neck. Faced with such knowledge, even Phil, self-absorbed as he is, cannot stand by idly. Nor could we, in his position. This is a powerful argument for knowledge as the most reliable foundation for generous behavior. What other movie can offer an insight half so profound?
Many more truths can be mined from this movie. As others have said, this is a thought experiment that went very well indeed--better than anything I've ever seen on the Big Screen. As such, I'd vote for it as one of the greatest movies ever made, and very likely the most underrated movie ever made.
A perfect blend of comedy, clever plotting, and character study
10/10 Even the funniest movies eventually stop making me laugh after I've watched them enough times that the humor no longer surprises me. A joke never has the same effect when you know the punch line in advance. But every once in a blue moon, a comedy comes along that is so thoughtful and meaningful in addition to being funny that after seeing it a dozen times and laughing less often, I start noticing its depth and insight. For me, no movie has so perfectly united hilarity with profundity as "Groundhog Day," which happens to be my favorite movie of all time.4 years ago
Superficially, this film belongs roughly in the same genre as "All of Me" and "Liar Liar," comedies in which a character becomes the victim of some weird supernatural fate and must adapt to the insane logic of the situation. But Steve Martin and Jim Carrey are geniuses of physical comedy, whereas Bill Murray specializes in understatement. I can't imagine any other approach having worked for this film, where the world is going crazy around Phil the weatherman, Murray's hard-edged character who keeps his emotions bottled up. What makes the initial scenes in which he first discovers his fate so hilarious is the mounting panic in his demeanor even as he tries to act like everything's normal. All he can think of to say is, "I may be having a problem." Uh, no kidding. Throughout the rest of the film, he'll deliver similarly muted lines to describe his situation, like "My years are not advancing as fast as you might think." It's striking that a man who has all the time in the world would choose his words so carefully, but it reflects a well-conceived screenplay.
In this comedy, the laughs are reinforced by repetition. The absurdity of Phil discovering that he's repeating the same day is funny enough, but every time that alarm clock goes off, and the radio starts playing, "I Got You Babe," and Phil goes through the same motions and meets the same people and then goes out into the street to be accosted by the same annoying high school buddy ("Phiiiil?"), I laugh again because I'm reminded how funny it was the first time around. People who didn't like this film (I've met one or two) emphasize how annoying it is that everything gets repeated. I sort of understand that complaint, since jokes repeated over and over usually fail miserably. "Groundhog Day," however, works uniquely well because the situation gets increasingly absurd and Phil gets increasingly desperate with each day that fails to pass.
The film would have fizzled out quickly had it spent the entire hour-and-a-half showing Phil meeting the same people and doing the same things time and again. The fact that "Groundhog Day" avoids this fate is one of its more striking qualities, since most high-concept comedies of this sort fall apart in the third act. "Groundhog Day" is a rare example of one that completely follows through with its premise, leading from the initial situation logically to the ending. Only the Jeopardy scene feels like a skit that could have appeared anywhere. But this scene actually is placed wisely: it occurs when Phil is becoming increasingly bored and lethargic, and it is used to separate two hilarious scenes where he gives nutty television reports.
It is in the middle, centering on Phil's attempts to seduce Rita, when the film reveals itself to be more than just a comedy. The underlying implication of these scenes is that Phil's powers are less important than he thinks they are. He probably could have done the same things (such as his exploits with Nancy) under ordinary circumstances, without the hocus pocus. In the end, his powers don't matter, because Rita is too smart and sees right through him. She may not understand the full supernatural implications of what he's doing, but she senses that he's somehow manipulating the situation. Phil may think he's a god, but he isn't all-powerful.
Phil's character development is convincing largely because we can so easily believe the situation would force him to look inward. Because he loves such a sincere woman as Rita, the only way he can finally impress her is by genuinely changing himself rather than faking it. The change he undergoes isn't an implausible leap, for he maintains many of the same basic character traits he had at the beginning, even though he becomes kinder and more caring. Earlier, Rita says that egocentrism is Phil's "defining characteristic," and, indeed, he doesn't stop being egocentric at the end; he merely learns to channel the egocentrism in a positive direction.
I have trouble imagining any other actor having pulled this off. Murray is not the only comic actor to have proved himself capable of dramatic depth, but he's one of the few who can so seamlessly combine his humorous and serious side into the same character. And he's a master at conveying complex emotions through an apparent deadpan. When his delivery sounds stilted in this film, the effect is intentional, for he's playing a man whose life has become a script.
Though this film has a serious message, it is still quintessentially a comedy. But it's a comedy that uses psychological exploration of a fascinating character to make its point. After the laughter has worn down, "Groundhog Day" turns out to be one of the richest and deepest films I've ever seen.
Bill Murray's greatest movie and one of the greatest comedies, no, one of the great movies of all time.
10/10 Two clues to tell if a movie is great is how often it is copied and how it has become a part of American slang. Groundhog Day has had both happen to it. Warning: POSSIBLE SPOILERS. Bill Murray played Phil Connors, a egocentric and grumpy weatherman in Pennsylvania who goes to Punxsutawny, Pa every year to see if the groundhog sees his shadow for the local television station with his producer, played by the wonderful Andie MacDowell, and his cameraman, played by a low keyed Chris Elliot.4 years ago
Everything goes as Phil expects on the first day, except he is caught in a blizzard and has to stay the night. The next morning he awakes and it's Groundhog Day again! This pattern happens over and over again until he realizes he cannot escape Groundhog Day. In time Phil realizes the advantages of knowing what's going to happen before it happens and Murray takes full comic advantage of it.
However if this film was just that, it would be just a normal run of the mill comedy. Murray's character Phil learns and grows and becomes a better person during the course of the film and learns to love the town in which he felt he was trapped in. The chemistry with MacDowell's character of Rita is wonderful. It's a great film and to my mind the best comedy, no perhaps the best movie I have ever seen.
10/10 I thought the film was terrific when I saw it in theaters twelve years ago. Recently in watching it again on cable, I was amazed at the quality of the screenplay. I didn't notice the first time. But on repeated viewings (like reliving Groundhog Day), I was impressed at the story created by the writers. This film is so much more than witty jokes and comic riffs arranged around a gimmick. It has an internal logic and consistency that is very rarely found in screenplays. No joke seemed disposable, and as you laugh your way along, the philosophy underlying the film takes over your imagination.4 years ago
Check the IMDb listings for this film's awards: look at the numerous British awards for writing. And yet this film was not even nominated for an Oscar. It is so rare that a film's jokes seem just as fresh more than a decade later, but I believe that is because the theme underlying the humor will never go out of fashion.
The acting was terrific, and I now think this is Bill Murray's best work (though I didn't take it seriously when I first saw the film.) But the screenplay is the one of the finest ever written. I don't know if it's studied in film schools, but it ought to be.
* * * * *
ON HAROLD RAMIS' DEATH: Ramis told The Associated Press in a 2009 story about the 50th anniversary of Second City. "When you hit it right, those things last."
I found that quote in a story on Ramis' death. The story curiously did not mention "Groundhog Day." If there is any film to serve as a fitting memorial for Harold Ramis, it must be "Groundhog Day." A totally perfect script, perfectly executed. He hit it right, and when will he get the recognition he deserved decades ago?