“Groundhog Day” is a genre-bending romp worth a rewatch, but maybe not a re-re-rewatch.
‘Groundhog Day’ Is Worth a Rewatch
Content warning: Sexual harassment, suicide.
“What if there were no tomorrow?”
That’s the question asked by Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in 1993’s “Groundhog Day,” in which Phil finds himself stuck in a daily time loop. The box-office smash — which turns 30 this year — mostly holds up, apart from retrospective criticism of Murray and misogynistic attitudes in the script.
Phil is a pessimistic and pretentious weatherman who travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every Feb. 2 for Groundhog Day, a national holiday during which a Punxsutawney groundhog — also named Phil — comes out of his burrow and either sees his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter, or doesn’t, meaning spring will come early. The human Phil hates the monotony of his job and plans on quitting that year, but his arrogance bites him back when he gets stuck repeating the titular holiday over and over again.
“Groundhog Day” plays artfully with each genre it dips into. The first half hour is a lighthearted comedy dripping with so much sarcasm viewers are left wondering how the small town of Punxsutawney hasn’t drowned in it yet.
Phil first takes advantage of the time loop by gorging on cakes and gleefully punching an annoying old acquaintance, Ned Ryerson. Stephen Tobolowsky’s performance as Ryerson is particularly memorable.
However, as he realizes he’s stuck in the time loop with no end in sight, an element of horror seeps in. The soundtrack creeps and creaks in minor chords. Murray masters the art of the resigned grimace. He has the face of every burnt-out essential worker, every quiet quitter and every person who can no longer stand their customer service voice.
Since he’s the only one who remembers the days within the time loop, Phil memorizes details about people — especially women — and tricks them into thinking he’s the ideal man for them. He essentially stalks them. His advances on Nancy (Marita Geraghty) are particularly off-putting as he pretends to be an old high school friend just to hook up with her.
The dread of monotony becomes so overpowering that Phil starts coming up with increasingly dangerous — and darkly funny — schemes to kill himself just to end the loop. Of course, he only breaks free through the power of love and kindness, an ending that isn’t as sappy as it seems.
Later, the film embraces the more light-hearted rom-com foreshadowed in the first act. Phil falls for the equally sarcastic but slightly-more-optimistic Rita, played by a spritely Andie MacDowell.
Phil ultimately realizes he can use the time loop to better himself as a person and care for the world around him. He learns to play the piano, fixes a stranger’s flat tire and cuts back on the snark.
The show of a uniquely American celebration is refreshingly wholesome. The small-town characters are more than just set dressing. They have likes and dislikes and real, human lives — a fact Phil takes the whole hour and 40 minutes to figure out.
Such an absurd premise seems an unlikely subject for critical analysis, but that’s what some have embraced about it, according to Vulture. Screenwriter Danny Rubin said some interpretations include the Nietzschean theory of eternal recurrence, Buddhist regeneration and Kabbalistic numerology, according to an interview with TheWrap. He’s something of a modern-day Job, a pawn for the God that is the writers’ room, a plaything made for testing the limits of man.
Murray’s casting as Phil may have contributed to Murray landing more serious roles, like those in “Rushmore” and “Lost in Translation,” Murray said in an interview with Vanity Fair.
The initial lack of consequences in the film follows into real life with Murray being accused of verbal, physical and sexual assault for decades, according to Vanity Fair. The allegations add a new level of creepiness to his “Groundhog Day” character’s unwanted advances on women.
Apart from Murray’s allegations, the humor and philosophical undertones of “Groundhog Day” prevail. The movie would go on to spawn a Broadway musical, a Super Bowl commercial and even a video game. Though it didn’t pioneer the time loop trope, its title became shorthand for being stuck in repetition. The format is particularly popular with sci-fi shows like “The Twilight Zone,” “The X-Files” and “Doctor Who.”
More recently, “Groundhog Day” found some resemblance in HBO Max’s “The Rehearsal,” in which Nathan Fielder repeatedly practices social interactions to get the most favorable results. Fielder, who previously blurred the lines between fiction and reality in “Nathan For You,” shares Phil’s initial lack of awareness for the people he hurts. By the end of their respective character arcs, Fielder and Phil both become more sympathetic and a bit more human.
“Groundhog Day” is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, The Roku Channel and Vudu.
Featured image courtesy of Columbia Pictures