Bill Murray At His Greatest
Many critics have written at length about the profundities of Groundhog Day, the 1993 Harold Ramis comedy that forced Bill Murray to relive the same day over and over and over again. I don’t know anything about that; the most profound stuff I ever watch is old episodes of Moonlighting. What I do know is that Groundhog Day IS funny, touching and smart, and one of the best comedies of the last 25 years.
I don’t remember the last recent comedy I saw that didn’t mine most of its humor from jokes about pissing, shitting, puking and queefing. Maybe I just don’t watch enough comedies, or maybe there really are no more filmmakers out there capable of making people laugh without venturing into Apatow-ish douche-humor territory.
So I was surprised to realize that, after revisiting Groundhog Day in preparation for hacking this article out, I couldn’t remember having seen any bodily-function gags in it. In lieu of all that was a very smartly-written, high-concept romantic comedy that drew its humor from the bizarre plight of its main character Phil Connors (Murray), and the very dry, Bill Murray-ish way he dealt with it.
Murray has always been one of my favorites; as a teenager I aspired to get to Phil Connors’ level of deadpan not-giving-a-shit. My friends assured me that I was far more likely to grow up to be the Michael Douglas character in that other great 1993 movie, Falling Down.
AND DAMMIT, THEY WERE RIGHT
After The First Several Centuries, She Starts to Look Pretty Good
Do I really need to explain the plot of this movie? Of course I don’t; you all know. It would be like synopsizing The Wizard of Oz; everyone’s seen the frigging thing, or at least knows about it. If you somehow have gone the last 25 years WITHOUT seeing Groundhog Day, then you’re different and strange and you deserve to feel bad about yourself. Stop reading this shit and go watch it now.
The endless repeat performances of a single day seem to be trying to teach Phil something about his life, about his attitude and actions and how they affect the people around him, but his ultimate goal seems to be figuring out how to bed his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell).
Even as a hormonal teenager I was never that into MacDowell; I thought she had a boxy head with a sickly complexion and upper gums the size of a groundhog’s. It was only years later that I realized my foolishness; now I find her quite attractive, but of course it’s far too late now, she’s gone from my life.
10,000 Years Will Give You Such A Crick In The Neck
There’s been much speculation over the years as to exactly how long Phil spent in this temporal vortex, in subjective time. Was it weeks? Months? Years? I have a vague recollection of Ramis once suggesting that Phil spent a hundred years, or more, reliving that particular 2nd of February.
Groundhog Day takes something of a darker turn when you look at it that way; I believe Columbia Pictures got nervous at this kind of mind-fuck showing up in one of their romantic comedies and put out the official line that Phil was only stuck in there for two weeks or something like that.
No, Phil was trapped in that day for a long, long time. Years, easily. Centuries perhaps, and maybe longer. Long enough to learn to play piano and ice-sculpt and pick up every necessary detail about Rita’s life that these days he could simply obtain by Internet-stalking her. Long enough to start to lose his mind, and attempt to commit suicide by every method known to Man.
Groundhog Day reminded me quite a bit of the Stephen King story about a child trapped in limbo for thousands of years, The Jaunt. But while that kid went insane and clawed his own eyeballs out, Phil Connors learns how to be a better, warmer, happier human being. He also decides to settle down in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and take part in the annual worship of a giant rat. Well, maybe he really did go insane.