Groundhog Day (1993)
Okay, I'm going to have to ask you to bear with me past the opening line of this review : Groundhog Day is perhaps the most underappreciated movie of the 90s and one of the best comedies since Hollywood's Golden Age, a film Frank Capra would have been proud of making. Did I lose you? Rolling on the ground laughing? Does the very concept of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis making one of the great films of all time strike you as too absurd for words? Well, hold on, and try this : forget everything you know about the movie and just listen to a brief description :
A monstrously self-centered TV personality is sent to small town America to cover a hokey holiday. He's accompanied by a too-innocent-to-be-believed, but button-cute, producer and a smart-alecky camera man. Trapped by a snow storm, which he had erroneously predicted would miss the region, our egomaniac is forced to spend the night in town and, when he awakes, finds to his horror that he's reliving the same day over again. And reliving, and reliving, and reliving.... At first, he takes some enjoyment in the seeming prescience this provides him and he takes great liberties once he realizes that he will never have to face the consequences for any action he takes, because tomorrow never comes. Though his producer is quite obviously repelled by his self-centered nature, he eventually discovers that he can worm his way into her affections by dating her over and over again and discovering her likes and dislikes, since she, of course, remembers nothing of the prior dates. Yet, even with all this effort, he is unable to win her, because he remains, fundamentally, obnoxious. Forced to confront his own unpleasantness and unlovability and the essential emptiness of his life, the man, aware now that he hates himself, tries to commit suicide, in various and sundry ways, but always awakens to greet the dawning of the new/old day. And so now, at last, his efforts turn to self-improvement, rather than to self-aggrandizement, and to helping others rather than to satisfying his own urges. His dilemma forces him to move beyond himself and to serve others. Where he once avoided the people of the town like the plague, he is now become an integral part of their community, and where he once saw the producer as merely an object of his lust, he now proves himself worthy of her love. The next morning, time resumes its regular progression and he resumes his life, a better man. Honestly, doesn't that sound like a Capra flick, starring Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur?
In fact, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis have made enough dogs, separately and together, to warrant your healthy skepticism, but Murray's performance here is generally under control and Ramis seldom stoops to gags and pratfalls. There's a big upside to the nasty edge that Murray always carries with him; we're prone to forgetting just how dark Jimmy Stewart's screen persona often tended to be, from explosive and suicidal, like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, to voyeuristic and manipulative, in Rear Window, to domineering and obsessive, in Vertigo. Andie MacDowell, on the other hand, is a tad too vacuous to counterbalance Murray effectively, but that's a tolerable flaw since it's very much Murray's movie.
Still not convinced? Here's my last try : how many recent films, nevermind comedies, actually have a story arc where the main character, instead of going through some process of healing his inner child, or whatever, improves himself by becoming a better member of society? What's the last comedy you saw that both made you laugh and made you think? (Heck, how many do either?) If you think about it, this movie runs counter to two of the worst trends in modern culture, the appalling focus on the self, and the annoying tendency to dumb art down so that it can be marketed across societal and national borders without losing anything in the translation. Make a movie for the purposes of selling it to teens and to China and you're going to have to go with scatology instead of metaphysics. Thus, it's increasingly rare to find a movie that requires that your synapses actually be firing, much less one that causes them to fire more quickly.
NBC has done something quite savvy and socially useful in recent years;
they've turned It's a Wonderful Life into a Christmas-time event.
Sure it was great when local PBS stations played it incessantly and we
all learned the script by heart, but there's something more appealing about
turning it into a shared viewing experience for the nation, one that hundreds
of thousands of homes are tuned into at the same time. We've so few
rituals left that bind us together as a community that perhaps one of the
best services the television networks can provide is to establish a few
holiday traditions, revolving around movies, or other specials, that they'd
show yearly. Besides Wonderful Life and TNT's Christmas
Story marathon and ABC's showing of The Ten Commandments around
Passover, someone could show Gettysburg
on the 4th of July; PBS could re-air Eyes on the Prize around Martin
Luther King, Jr. Day; show Young Abraham Lincoln on President's
Day; etc., etc., etc..... And show Groundhog Day you-know-when.
It's a classic, let's treat it like one. No, seriously…
GROUNDHOG DAY :
BILL MURRAY :
There's actually a pretty substantiative cult devoted to praising "Groundhog Day." It hasn't been overlooked--it just wasn't a blockbuster.
- Li'l Jon
- Jan-24-2007, 16:23
Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd