early spring this year!) gets extensive news coverage. I personally doubt the wisdom of a rodent too dumb to cross the highway intact, but it's a harmless enough tradition aside from DUI-related arrests. At face value though, it's hard to see much dramatic potential in the holiday.
Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day (1993) though is a classic comedy. Words like life-affirming, heart-warming and feel-good get thrown around like Styrofoam peanuts, but this wonderful fantasy earns them all.
Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a jaded Pittsburgh weatherman who's stuck covering Groundhog Day. Unfortunately Phil becomes stuck reliving February 2nd for eternity. Phil uses his dubious gift to indulge himself, scoring with women, hitting it rich and gorging on pastries. Soon he grows depressed and takes to killing himself. Over time however he masters several skills, wooing his producer Rita (Andie McDowell) and learning to be a better person.
A modern day film blanc, Groundhog Day is a pleasantly uplifting fantasy. Danny Rubin's script makes brilliant use of its inventive premise, exploring the contours of human existence. When Phil adjusts he uses it to act without consequences (be it robbing a bank or stealing Punxsutawney Phil) and ultimately to help friends and townspeople. Yet his powers are limited, as when he tries (and fails) to save a homeless man. Phil can "live forever" but he can't control fate.
Groundhog Day's simplest lesson is self-improvement. Bill goes from indulging fantasies to helping townspeople with every conceivable errand, until he's Punxsutawney's most honored citizen. It takes a few hundred Groundhog Days but Phil gains real skills and empathy for others. He can score with Rita by "learnings" Ramis handles this material lightly, providing plenty of gags while keeping sentimentality dialed down. It compares well to Murray's awful Scrooged, which force feeds its audience unearned treacle.
Bill Murray gives a career-best performance. He starts off with typical deadpan snarkiness but gradually evolves into an endearing character. Andie McDowell makes a charming love interest. Ramis provides amusing support: Stephen Toblowsky as an annoying insurance salesman, Chris Elliot as Phil's cranky cameraman, Brian Doyle Murray (Bill's brother) as the groundhog honcho. See if you can spot a very young Michael Shannon in a walk-on role.
Hooray for Groundhog Day, a genuinely heartwarming movie. Hooray as well for an "early spring"! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to dig my car out of the driveway...