#74) Groundhog Day (1993)

#74) Groundhog Day (1993)

OR “Live. See Shadow. Repeat”

Wait, that was the subtitle for the first one. Does anyone even get that reference anymore?

#74) Groundhog Day (1993)

OR “Murray Holidays”

Mmmm, better, but not great. What about…

#74) Groundhog Day (1993)

OR “Fuck You, Desson Thomson!”

Too dark. Oh, I know!

#74) Groundhog Day (1993)

OR “Let’s Do the Time Loop Again”

Directed by Harold Ramis

Written by Ramis and Danny Rubin

Class of 2006

This a revised and expanded version of my original “Groundhog Day” post, which you can read here.

The Plot: Arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover their annual Groundhog Day ceremony with charming new producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) and seasoned cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). After a blizzard leaves him stranded in town, Phil awakes the next morning to find that it is once again Groundhog Day, and that he is stuck in some sort of time loop. As Phil endlessly repeats February 2nd, he goes through a wide variety of reactions, from frustration to depression, to eventual acceptance of his predicament. On the advice of Rita, Phil decides to turn this time loop into a positive experience, bettering himself and the people around him. And from this he learns…whatever theological moral you want him to.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film a “clever comedy with a philosophical edge to boot”, praising the “deft, innovative script”. An essay by film professor Steve Ginsberg addresses the film’s themes, and opines how this film will look 100 years from now. Don’t ask me, ask those damn dirty apes!

But Does It Really?:  I don’t like throwing out the word “perfect”, but “Groundhog Day” may in fact be a perfect movie. It may not be Danny Rubin’s original concept (more on that later), but the end result is a beautifully structured comedy that successfully balances the fantasy and real-world elements. All of this spearheaded by a revelatory Bill Murray and an ensemble that can’t be beat. Like any great movie, “Groundhog Day” only gets better with age, and its continued presence in our pop culture justifies its NFR inclusion.

Shout Outs: Quick reference to “Dirty Harry“, plus an overall “It’s a Wonderful Life” vibe that permeates the whole movie.

Everybody Gets One: Danny Rubin got the idea for “Groundhog Day” when he was reading “The Vampire Lestat”. His screenplay about immortality eventually became about a time loop to save money, and Groundhog Day was chosen because it was the closest holiday. Initially written as a spec script, “Groundhog Day” found its way to Harold Ramis, who got it greenlit at Columbia.

Wow, That’s Dated: Harold Ramis aimed for a timelessness with “Groundhog Day”, and for the most part he got it. The main giveaway is the film’s use of blue screen during Murray’s opening weather report, and Phil’s non-digital alarm clock.

Title Track: A reminder that we here in America observe a holiday based on a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition about a groundhog seeing its shadow and predicting the weather. The first official ceremony in Punxsutawney was held in 1887 (though there was an unofficial gathering the year before).

Seriously, Oscars?: A modest hit upon release, “Groundhog Day” was part of Columbia’s official Oscar campaign in 1994, but received zero nominations. The film did, however, receive a few critics nominations for its screenplay, with Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis winning the BAFTA for Original Screenplay.

Other notes 

  • There is A LOT of information out there about the making of this movie and its development, all of it worth exploring (Danny Rubin even wrote a whole book about it). Long story short: The film was drastically rewritten by Harold Ramis, and then some more by Danny Rubin after Bill Murray was cast. Rubin’s original version explored Phil’s darker exploitations of the time loop, Ramis wanted a more lighthearted rom-com, while Murray wanted more delving into the philosophical aspects. The shoot was difficult, primarily due to on-set clashes between Ramis and Murray (the latter was going through a divorce at the time). “Groundhog Day” was their seventh and final film collaboration, though the two eventually patched things up prior to Ramis’ death in 2014.
  • Last time, I gave the movie poster crap for not accurately portraying the film. Further research this go-round, however, showed me that family comedies were very marketable in the early ’90s (thank you, “Home Alone”), and the misrepresentation was intentional.
  • Bill Murray may have been a pain in the ass to work with, but if you believe that the end justifies the means, look no further than his performance. Part of what makes Murray work is his Buster Keaton stoneface. You can read almost anything into his hangdog expression, and Murray’s acting subtleties reward you for the inspection.
  • I’m enjoying the dynamic between Murray and Andie MacDowall. Another comedian would have ruined the chemistry, but having a natural, sweet performer like MacDowall is the perfect balance to Murray’s asshole demeanor.
  • Stephen Tobolowsky. Talk about turning a meal into a feast. His Ned Ryerson is so memorably quirky, and his limited screentime goes a long way.
  • I appreciate that this movie doesn’t waste time. You get the bare minimum of set-up, an extended take on Day One, and then it’s off to the time loop.
  • They could have used any song as the one that Phil wakes up to every morning; some more annoying, some more on the nose. But somehow, “I’ve Got You, Babe” is the perfect choice.
  • Phil consults Dr. Cameo for his possible brain damage. The doctor’s most important advice: “Don’t cross the streams. It would be bad.
  • Kudos to editor Pembroke J. Herring, who not only aided in effectively visualizing the time loop, but also helped with some restructuring in post-production.
  • Composer George Fenton was asked to create a score reminiscent of Nino Rota, which explains why the opening sounds like “8 1/2“. There’s also a point where the score gets a little “Schitt’s Creek”-esque. Thank goodness Roland is there.
  • My favorite line in the movie: “Maybe [God’s] not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long, he knows everything.”
  • That’s future two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as the young groom-to-be whose fiancée may be getting cold feet.
  • Among the many things that make this movie work are the abundance of philosophical viewpoints thrown in. No wonder every major religion thinks it’s about them. Part of that is the vagary of the film’s philosophies, part of that is the fact that every major religion boils down to the same bullet points if you think about it.
  • I still don’t get why Larry becomes such a sleaze at the end. Is it to show how much better Phil has become? Larry gets the raw deal in terms of character development and depth. But hey, at least he’s got “Cabin Boy” coming up.
  • My take on Phil’s growth in this movie is from what I call Luke Skywalker syndrome. “All his life has he looked away to the future…never his mind on where he was.” Only when Phil learns to be in the moment and live spontaneously can he train Baby Yoda break the time loop.
  • “Groundhog Day” has one of moviedom’s most unappreciated curtain lines: the scripted “Let’s live here”, followed by Murray’s ad-lib, “We’ll rent to start.”

Legacy 

  • While it took a while for “Groundhog Day” to become a bona fide classic, the film had an immediate impact on the holiday itself. Attendance at the 1994 Groundhog Day festival in Punxsutawney increased dramatically. Woodstock, Illinois (this film’s Punxsutawney stand-in) has also started doing its own festivities, and offers tours of the film’s shooting locations.
  • With this movie, audiences and critics started to see Bill Murray as less of a comedic actor and more of a leading man. This led to his more dramatic work in such films as “Rushmore” and “Lost in Translation”.
  • Harold Ramis followed up “Groundhog Day” with… “Stuart Saves His Family”? Oh no. Well..after that he had a nice run of comedies, including “Multiplicity”, another high-concept comedy with Andie MacDowell, but this time with Michael Keaton, one of many who passed on being in “Groundhog Day”.
  • Danny Rubin turned down several screenwriting offers after “Groundhog Day”, unwilling to give up his creative freedom, and hasn’t had a screenplay produced since. Although Rubin has mixed feelings about what “Groundhog Day” ultimately became, he has said he is grateful for the experience.
  • Like “Ferris Bueller” before it, “Groundhog Day” got its closest approximation to a sequel with a Super Bowl commercial.
  • Speaking of, this may be the only movie on the NFR with a VR video game that’s also a sequel. Well, this and “Double Indemnity“.
  • Many elements from “Groundhog Day” have been referenced over the years, and the title itself has become shorthand for a mundane, repetitive experience. Example: This whole re-write has been a real “Groundhog Day” for me.
  • Although “Groundhog Day” did not invent the time loop genre, it certainly helped make it more acceptable to a wide audience. Recent additions to the genre include the films “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Happy Death Day” and “Palm Springs”, as well as the TV series “Russian Doll”.

Listen to This: STILL no Sonny & Cher on the National Recording Registry. Perhaps I need to start a petition or something.

3 thoughts on “#74) Groundhog Day (1993)”

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