A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 339 – Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day – February 2nd, 2011

Well, it was inevitable, I suppose, that we would watch this today. We might have blown New Year’s Eve by watching Strange Days way early, but we’ve learned to plan better since then (aside from missing Hogfather when we listed our movies). We’ve got a few more with set dates but this was one we nailed down pretty early on. I first saw this movie because of Andy. He loves it. And while I don’t dislike it, I regret to say that I just don’t share his love of it.

I’m not sure precisely why it is that this movie doesn’t strike the same note for me as it does for him. I mean, it’s definitely got its moments. A lot of the jokes make me smile and I like the basic premise. It just doesn’t quite all come together for me. While watching it tonight I tried to figure out why it was that it would be such an amazing experience for my husband and apparently quite a few other people and leave me somewhat flat and I have to admit I’m still puzzled. I enjoyed it a little more tonight than I remember enjoying it the last time I watched it, but it didn’t have me laughing myself sick or having any big cosmic moments. Oh well.

At its most basic core, it is the story of a jackass who needs to find a way to change himself in order to continue on in life. Jazz it up a little and you have the universe’s way of forcing him to do that: He must live out the same day, over and over and over, until he manages to do things right. And not just act them out right, but do them because he believes in them. Phil Connors is our jackass here. He’s a weather man who’s been sent to Punxsutawny to cover Groundhog Day and he hates it. He’s a jerk to the cameraman (Larry), sleazily hits on the new producer (Rita) and basically phones it in only to wake up the next morning and realize it’s not the next morning. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, with the same song playing on the radio and the same people in the bed and breakfast dining room saying the same things and the same everything happening, just like it happened the day before. He thinks he’s lost his mind. He tries to explain it all to Rita, who dismisses him because seriously, what the hell, right? And as the days go on, repeating and repeating and repeating, Phil begins to look for things to do.

Now, this is where the movie gets its humor and its drama. On the humorous side of things, Phil realizes he can do things without consequences, like stealing money and crashing a car. And he starts knowing what people will say, and readies quips and comebacks in anticipation. He memorizes the answers on Jeopardy and dumbfounds people with the things he knows. There’s a whole montage of him doing bizarre stuff. And then there’s the drama when he realizes he can kill himself and he’ll still wake up at six in the morning on February 2nd. Again. And yes, it’s presented humorously, but man, that’s some bleak stuff there. Because he doesn’t just do it once. He enumerates several different ways at one point, in addition to the three I can think of off the top of my head that happen on screen. He reaches a point where he becomes despondent, trapped in this neverending cycle of a single crappy day. And then he seems to wake up a little. He teaches himself French. He learns to play the piano. He does ice sculpture and starts to get to know every single person in the town. And since he retains information from day to day every iteration contains a Phil with more knowledge and more depth.

I think one of my issues here is that I think that’s pretty cool stuff. There’s some debate, it seems, over how many times Phil actually relives this one day, but the director (Harold Ramis) has spoken in tens of years or more. Phil doesn’t age, after all. The original writer of the story has said 10,000 years. It’s never made clear, though Phil does have an interesting conversation with Rita late in the movie, where he lays it all out for her, going through the cafe they’re in and telling her about every person in it. “Maybe God uses tricks,” he tells her. “Maybe he’s just been around a long time.” He says he’s immortal (and he could be! I mean, look at that overcoat – he could totally have a sword under there) and seems resigned to the implications that brings. And that conversation is fascinating to me. It makes this character far more interesting than the rest of the movie makes him for me. And then there’s a rather somber bit where Phil realizes he can’t save someone. There’s a homeless man who’s been there every time, but when Phil actually tries to help him it turns out he dies. He dies every day. There is no stopping it. As I said, that’s bleak. And yet this rather bleak and somber and serious stuff is all played down against the background of this jackass’s humorous redemption. And I guess I don’t feel they’re balanced terribly well.

There’s a love story in here, with Phil hitting on Rita at first and then realizing he doesn’t just want to get into her pants, he really does like her. He grows to love her – and for him, over the course of however many repeats of this day, I won’t deny the possibility. At first he just plays the right role, ending with her getting pissed off when she realizes it was an act. There’s a montage of Rita slapping Phil for good reason. And he’s not quite sure at first how to fix this. How to make her actually like him. Only after countless repeats and attempts does he manage to do it. And okay, that’s presented mostly seriously in that he works towards winning her over in earnest. But it’s the sort of love story tenderness that you get in any comedy-heavy rom-com. It’s goofball romance. Which is all well and good, but it still doesn’t quite work for me with the other serious stuff.

I have read that Harold Ramis wanted the movie to be more on the comedic side whereas Bill Murray wanted to go for more of the philosophical aspect and I have to say I side with Murray on this one. The comedy makes great moments and asides, but really, if we can get what, eight or nine slaps in sequence for humorous effect, why not at least give us a couple of iterations of Phil failing to save the homeless man. There’s really only two scenes there and it feels like it’s meant to be this big emotional turning point for Phil but it’s given less attention, which frustrates me. And I think it’s because I’m picky when it comes to rom-com stuff, but a good time-loop plot with philosophy hits my buttons. It would also have been nice to have Rita be more than a prize for Phil’s spiritual growth, but well, rom-com.

All that being said, if I cut out the philosophical parts, or detach them from the rom-com parts, and focus on the funny stuff? Yeah, it’s good. Bill Murray plays his typical cynical jackass with a heart of (fool’s) gold but he does have fantastic comic timing. He nails things like every exchange with his old classmate from high school, and the bit near the end where he’s just tooling around town fixing everything he’s ever found that goes wrong. And Andie MacDowell as Rita plays a good foil for him, not taking his crap and remaining skeptical about the changes going on in him up until the very end, which sells the transformation nicely. There are some fun bit parts, like Steven Tobolowsky as Phil’s old classmate and Brian Doyle-Murray as one of the groundhog wranglers. I have no complaints about the acting or the premise. I guess when you get down to it, it’s that I want there to be “Who Wants to Live Forever” playing over the end credits and instead there’s the song Weatherman. Oh well. Not every movie can be Highlander.

February 2, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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