Written by: Danny Rubin & Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray
When stuck in a particular rut, going through life’s everyday minutiae can feel like a repeat of the same nonsense driving you insane. Imagine the never-ending day but once the conclusion seemingly arrives, it only starts all over. Groundhog Day captures the essence of this feeling in how this repetitiveness can leave a large impact when the day literally repeats but it sorely misses the mark with its forced romantic elements.
Pittsburgh weatherman Phil (Bill Murray) loathes having to travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the annual tradition of the groundhog predicting the weather for the next few weeks. After getting the job done and hoping to leave, he wakes and realizes the same day began all over and notices this repetition continues with no end in sight.
Glorious in its concept, Groundhog Day has helped spur other films utilizing its concept and with refinement, those other projects do it in a much more succinct and enjoyable manner. Something like Palm Springs, which takes the idea but actually adds intriguing characters going through actual personal dilemmas throughout. The biggest thing holding this film back comes from the lack of formation of an interesting character in Bill and how the forced romantic pairing of him and producer Rita (Andie McDowell) never really lands, especially in the way the narrative plays out.
Now, if you’ve read my other reviews of the 80s and 90s Bill Murray comedies, you would know I’m not the biggest fan of this era of his work. I more so appreciate his turns into dramedies, especially in collaboration with Wes Anderson. Something about how he plays these characters has this asshole quality to them that cannot so easily be washed off as the film intends. This character of Phil has arrogance written all over him. He could not care for anyone else’s feelings unless he personally would be receiving something from it and it gets put to the test in this feature. It’s meant to allow him to learn to be a better person, but in the end, the growth does not really match what this morality play seems to suggest and most of the issue comes from his relationship with Rita.
With absolutely no chemistry to begin with, when Phil finds himself in this cycle, he begins to experiment on different things to see what works and who he can take advantage of. One instance shows him asking a young woman in the town random questions, so he could use it when the next cycle begins in order to form a fake bond with her, which would lead to a higher likelihood of their interaction leading to intercourse. Gross manipulation but it comes as part of his journey with no-name characters, but when this gets turned and used on Rita, it leaves a bad taste never to be washed off no matter how much the film wants you to believe the man has changed. His trying, again and again, to find the right combination of words and actions that would make her sleep with him comes off as a gross display of power in this situation as he continually learns more about her and she unwittingly grows feelings for him each time all based on a lie. Something that would serve as a good lesson for him in the future, but the film seemingly rewards him for it with the prototypical happy ending, which ultimately makes his attempts of getting in her pants ultimately worth it in some deranged way. With a character already lacking in the relatability category with his incredible arrogance, it never became a character arc that came together thematically or narratively by any stretch.
Also, for a film meant to be a comedy, it lacked any real genuine laughs. Sure, there were moments where well-structured jokes were pieced together by the writing and delivery by the actors, but nothing ever let out more than a slight chuckle. Perhaps because the film allowed itself to wallow in its misery in an uninteresting manner, all the moments meant to be funny just turned out to be fairly sad. Not the best combination seeing as it certainly did not start as the intention for what the story should have become.
Yet another Bill Murray comedy I must say I ended up not being a fan of, Groundhog Day may be a favorite for many but remains something I simply cannot vibe with. The character of Phil never allows himself to be endearing to any level and we’re left with a manipulative stain of a human being having his fun manipulating people who have no clue what he’s doing to them and the amount of knowledge he has accrued from simply reliving the same day over and over again. A tremendous concept but a mediocre film to carry it out.