When arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bin Murray) travels to the small town of Punxsutawney for the yearly Groundhog Day celebrations he wants the day to go as quickly as possible. Feeling the job is beneath him he is looking forward to a quick piece to camera before heading back to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for Phil his miserable day in the small town lasts a lot longer than expected as when he wakes up the following morning he discovers that it is Groundhog Day all over again. Phil keeps experiencing the same day over and over desperate for a way to see a tomorrow which seems as though it will never come.
I first saw Groundhog Day about fifteen years ago and have watched it everyday since. In 2006 it was added to the US Nation Film Registry and I’m not surprised. As well as being a family favourite it can also be watched on a different level and raises questions about ones purpose or meaning in life as well as exploring the mental issues around repetition and the feeling of being trapped or held by something beyond your control. Although Connors is trapped by some sort of paranormal force the film could be seen as an analogy for the trappings of poverty and even touches on that aspect in a literal way with a brief inclusion of a couple of drunk characters. Even if you don’t want to read into the film in any great detail, it is still enormously entertaining and ironically the sort of film that you can watch again and again.
Groundhog Day is a film with a lot of emotional depth which is often counter balanced by moments of deadpan humour in order to not get too heavy. Even with the fun and laughs though it is quite a serious film at times and deals with some interesting and profound topics. The film can be seen as an allegory for self improvement or perhaps selflessness as Connors is unable to continue with his life until he has enriched the lives of those around him. His initial reaction to his newfound situation is one of disbelief. He soon realises though that he has unimaginable freedom and can live a life without consequences. He also learns that by remembering things from previous days he can improve the next by for instance tricking an attractive woman into believing they went to school together. It takes him a long time though to realise that he is able to use this knowledge to improve the lives of others.
Connors tries the gradual improvement technique to try and bed his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) but despite his best efforts he is unable to go all the way with her. This, coupled with the monotonous nature of his existence opens up the third stage in his reaction to his situation – a deep depression. Realising he is unable to escape his strange paradox and with his efforts to seduce Rita hitting a brick wall Connors tries numerous times to end his own life but finds he wakes up in exactly the same bed at exactly the same time, listening to the same Sonny and Cher song as the previous day. The film takes another turn when Connors realises that he is happier when he helps those around him and eventually settles into a routine of life saving and personal development. He also changes his attitude towards his co workers and the people around him and realises perhaps for the first time what a git he is. This sets up an excellent final act.
Bill Murray’s performance is outstanding. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic wit is a joy to watch and he handles the more challenging aspects of the role really well too. I can’t imagine the character in another persons hands, he totally makes the character his own. The script too is based on a wonderful idea and has plenty of humour along with the deep drama and big questions. I also really like that you have no idea exactly how long the character has been experiencing the same day. A minimum would have to be a decade or so but it may well be many hundreds or even thousands of years. Leaving the question unanswered is a smart move. My only complaint is that everything ends a little too neatly but for a mainstream Hollywood film you can’t expect much more than that. For me it has the qualities of a good Christmas movie. The snowy scenes, love story, comedy and It’s a Wonderful Life style feel make it an excellent choice for a late December watch.