Growing up, we had several goto family movies that we watched. We favored other dark humor comedies like Better Off Dead starring John Cusack, and Clifford starring Martin Short (also The Breakfast Club coming of age story which is really not appropriate for kids, but TBS showed it quite often, so we had a censored version), but my personal favorite was: Groundhog Day.
What would you do with your life if you literally had forever? This is probably something humanity has wondered since death came into the picture at the beginning of the world. What amazing things could we do if we just didn’t die? Groundhog Day plumbs the great opportunity such a thing would present to a human, and also the great burden it would be to never die in a body and world so corrupted.
In what I think is his best performance ever, Bill Murray portrays weatherman Phil as he goes to the small town of Punxsutawney to cover their annual Groundhog Day celebration in which a groundhog, also named Phil, is consulted on whether or not we will have six more weeks of winter. This depends on whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not and is an odd tradition that we kids had never really heard of before the movie. It’s fun nonsense, I guess.
Although Groundhog Day came out in 1993, it is classic and has aged well. The themes in it are universal, the love story sweet. It has a timeless, everyday quality about it, with memorable performances not only from Murray, but Andie MacDowell (Cedar Cove) as Rita, and several character actors that populated a ton of Hollywood movies at the time. Phil has his worst day ever, stuck in the cold winter in a town he hates, and wakes up the next day to find out it’s not the next day: He’s reliving Groundhog Day again…and again.
How long Phil has to endure this time loop, we’re never told, but it’s long enough for him to become a piano virtuoso and learn French. It’s also long enough to learn the names and details of everyone in town on that day. At first Phil is frustrated and depressed that this has happened, but soon he realizes he can do whatever he wants without consequences. But as time passes, or rather does not pass, this has little appeal for him.
We see his sinister and manipulative side really come out in his romantic conquests, of which there are at least two, but there certainly could be more not included in the story, in which he learns whatever information about a woman he needs to get her to sleep with him. As the longest day ever continues, Phil actually falls in love with one of them, his charming, beautiful producer Rita. But Rita’s not as easy as the other girl, and Phil gets rejected far more times than a man could probably stand. He enters a dark phase in which he tries to kill himself repeatedly without success. This is dark comedy gold as Phil also kidnaps his groundhog counterpart, thinking if they both die this cycle will end. It doesn’t.
The cycle only finally ends with the vain, selfish Phil turns a corner and becomes a better person. Again, we don’t know how many Groundhog Days he goes through to get there, but it’s surely a lot, and through it all is a true love for both his fellow man and especially for Rita. It is heartwarming and wonderful to see him transform and amazing to see how Rita responds to this. He really sweeps her off her feet and does it all just by being a good, talented, unselfish person. He does the same good deeds every day even though he knows there’s ultimately no good consequences for him in a tomorrow that will never come. Punxsutawney becomes his home, the people who are there that day his family.
Finally, when Phil’s worst day ever has become his best day ever, and he gets the love of the woman of his dreams, then the cycle ends and he has a tomorrow. I always wondered what his life was like for him after all of that, and perhaps that would be some interesting fan fiction. It would also be interesting to see a modern remake of the story. As the name Phil is so oft repeated in the movie and some of its famous quotes, too, I always have a bit of sympathy for any guy named Phil on this day, because they perhaps get annoying people yelling the movie quotes at them. Ah, well, we all have our burdens to bear.
At once hilarious and endearing, Groundhog Day is wonderful writing and characterization and I’m sure will be something families watch again and again in the future. It allows us to dream, what if, and tells us, nope, such a journey would be far harder than you think it would. The love story is also great and I think the movie is perfect for Valentine’s Day. This was a time when Hollywood writers still believed that love and romance was true.