I’ve been looking forward to today’s review for months. Truth be told, this would have been one of the first movies I watched for a Saturday replay, but I decided to look ahead, and sure-enough February 2nd fell on a Saturday, so I’ve saved it until now.
On paper Groundhog Day looks like just another run-of-the-mill Bill Murray / Harold Ramis comedy, but I think that it’s a lot more than that. The film is simultaneously an innovative story about time travel, an incredibly deep character piece, a pitch-perfect comedy, and a light romance. There’s really nothing else like it.
Murray stars as Phil Connors, a self-obsessed TV weatherman from Pittsburgh dispatched to rural Punxsutawny, PA to cover the annual Groundhog Festival, along with cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott), and newly-hired producer Rita (Andie MacDowell). Phil’s entire plan is to get into town, shoot his required segment, and get out as quickly as possible. However, other forces are afoot and Phil finds himself stuck in Punxsutawny, reliving groundhog’s day, over and over again.
The film strikes an excellent balance between comedy and profundity, as the days continue to not-pass, Phil’s reaction progresses from confusion, to hedonism, to desperation, and on. Finally, Phil realizes that while the events and the people around him can, apparently, never change, he can change himself. It’s through these efforts at self-improvement that Phil finds ways to make a difference in the lives hundreds of people, all in the span of a single day.
The movie is remarkably efficient as a comedy, while there are laughs throughout, none of them seem wasted, the humor feeds into the plot, and the plot feeds into the humor. The screenplay by Ramis and Danny Rubin is remarkable, but it’s Murray’s performance as Phil that really makes the movie work.
As with many of these Saturday reviews it’s hard for me to avoid spoilers, and to avoid gushing. Groundhog Day is certainly in my top five favorite movies. It’s wonderfully constructed, cleverly nuanced, and it works on multiple levels. It’s an absolute Must See.