Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day ★★★★

Groundhog Day hasn't just created a legacy of being a movie beloved by probably millions, it's also seeped deeply into not just pop culture but also as a defining description of modern day 'déjà-vu'. Harold Ramis reunites with Ghostbusters alumni Bill Murray, this time calling the shots behind the camera to deliver a warm-hearted comedy less about the sci-fi trope of a man living within a never ending time loop, but rather about how having to relive the same day over and over again changes the man involved. There's almost a whimsical, near Dickensian-touch to the concept of Murray's Phil Connors being forced to change through these exceptional circumstances, discovering the power of the human spirit along the way. It's a testament to the writing, acting and direction that Groundhog Day is never tiresome, never twee, never trite or never repetitive, rather instead full of invention, wit and with a narrative held together like, ironically, clockwork; there's something quite timeless about this film, indeed you seem to take more away from it every time you experience it.

To many it's perfection, yet there are a few holes in the bulkhead. Ramis takes his time kicking the story fully into gear, with the pre-time loop preamble threatening to drag, especially given Murray is playing such an unlikeable asshole; that is, of course, the point yet the script almost threatens to disengage until Phil finally wakes up for his first repeating day - at which point we're off to the races. Murray is even more laconic than usual as Phil, steadily developing the character from a cold, egotistical beginning into a man who realises what a gift the repeating day is. Ramis wisely gets out of his way, his direction allowing the script and performances within to breathe & the strong story tell itself almost - it's not showy but it's solid, framing repeating scenes differently & even with similar shots he punches up the differences in the script that hold the interest. There isn't massive chemistry, mind, between Murray & Andie MacDowell as the ultimate object of his affections and despite being a crux point of the plot, the romance never really feels true, if indeed it certainly is earned. This to my mind is the weak link of the movie because Ramis is at his strongest when exploring the psychological and philosophical fallout of what Phil is experiencing, which the script doesn't hammer home but neither shies away from.

Much discussion over the past two decades has been had over how long Phil actually found himself inside the time loop, with estimates anywhere from 10 years up to 10,000 (the median agreed upon appears to be 30-40 years) but despite the lean running time, Ramis does manage to explore what Phil would do with this massive extra time on his hands. He travels the gauntlet from being self-centered, gorging himself or thieving, sleeping around, until eventually he begins trying to save a dying old man or prevent people suffering accidents - upon the moment he begins to wonder if his experience is divine, he starts to enrich himself with skills, touch the lives of others, before ultimately realising the true power of what's happening to him. Ramis is never interested nor indeed touches on the *how* or *why* this happened either, that's purely incidental; his is a story about change, about spirit, about heart and the fact the script gets into all this while still raising a laugh or tugging the heart strings without being saccharine, in just over 90 minutes indeed, is quite something. It makes this more than just a frothy, whimsical comedy but rather a film with extra to say.

The biggest testament to Groundhog Day, in many respects, is that it's been endlessly imitated on TV and in movies but rarely matched. The premise is beautifully simple but Harold Ramis wraps around it quite a touching story set in small-town America that never feels as mawkish as it so easily could have been, perhaps thanks to one of Bill Murray's strongest performances, really getting to the nub of a tricky role and bringing out nuances that help us care about a man who starts odious & self-serving and ends up a better person. For teaching that lesson in a fun, enjoyable way alone, Groundhog Day deserves to be as fondly remembered and beloved as it is.

A. J. liked these reviews