After starring in a modern day version of Charles Dickens' classic tale "A Christmas Carol" in Scrooged, Bill Murray once again decided to play a grumpy dude stuck in a magical time loop where he learns a valuable lesson, becoming a better person in the process in Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day.
It should have all been so tiresomely familiar and predictable and yet Groundhog Day out-shined Scrooged almost instantly as a much more original take on the whole Scrooge thing, essentially becoming the new and improved It's A Wonderful Life. The film follows Phil Connors (Murray), a cynical weatherman sent to the little town of Punxsuntawney to cover "Groundhog Day", a cute February event in which the end of winter is determined by a groundhog. Phil hates the idea of spending an entire day in that place but he finds soon enough that, not only will he be spending the whole day there due to a blizzard blocking his route, but every day after that.
As it turns out, every day Phil wakes up to post-that day is Groundhog Day all over again and there's pretty much nothing he can do about it. It's a genius surreal concept which allows for tons of clever time loop jokes but it's also a risky one as seeing the same scenes over and over again could have easily made for a dull flick. Luckily, there are subtle and obvious differences between each and every day Phil Connors is made to spend in Punxsuntawney. The best thing about the film is definitely seeing this character change and how he handles this nightmare. He's scared at first, then overjoyed when he finds that he can basically do whatever he wants without consequences, but he's miserable when he finds he can't quite manipulate Andie MacDowell's love interest into sleeping with him and just plain suicidal when he believes this day will never end. Bill Murray is, of course, perfect for the role and nails every one of Phil Connors' reactions, especially the more douchey ones early on.
Groundhog Day is not only a very clever comedy but a very funny one also. Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin's sharp script allows for a lot of dark humour and many sarcastic remarks as well as the odd slapstick moment and goofy situation. You've got Phil creepily tricking some poor woman into getting into bed with him, driving off a cliff with the titular groundhog, making out with old ladies, stealing money from a bank, claiming to be a god, stuffing his face with pastries, acting like a horny teenager, getting really good at game shows, killing himself about a dozen times... Every day for him may be the same but for us it's a non-stop riot of demented, sociopathic behaviour. There are also more genuinely emotional moments like when Phil tries to keep some old homeless man alive, unfortunately failing to trick nature no matter how hard he tries.
The film could have easily gone down the really dark route with Phil doing all sorts of unspeakable things but, wisely, we get a much more light-hearted resolution to this whole crackpot plot. Groundhog Day basically evolves into a romantic comedy and, although that's a bit of a shame seeing as there was potential to go even further and deeper with that concept, it handles that well. You could easily imagine a Jim Jarmusch or Sofia Coppola indie version of this movie which would end with more of a bittersweet question mark than a straight-up happy ending and, although that might have been more interesting, elevating things to another level, this movie doesn't aim to be particularly deep or important. It just wants to be entertaining, funny and make the most of its clever premise and it achieves that admirably, still managing to have some depth to it in the process. It's a real shame that Ramis and Murray fell out during the filming of the movie and wouldn't work together again since it would have been cool to see more collaborations post-Groundhog Day.
That Groundhog Day has become such a cult classic is not surprising, there aren't many comedies quite like it and few films have made the most of Bill Murray's talents quite as well as this one has. It's very sweet, very funny, playfully smart and just a really fun film overall. It gets a little schmaltzy towards the very end but that hardly matters: just wait for a snowy day, get some mulled wine and nest under a blanket in front of this movie and you'll love every single minute of it.
Simply a must-see.