Before I start today’s post I have to hold my hands up and say “I’m sorry”. In my flu-y haze I managed to forget that yesterday was the first Wednesday of February. That would normally be my day for a Top 10 post but I ended up falling asleep. So, you’ll have to wait a week longer to read it but, hopefully, the added time will make it a doozy. I mean past experience tells me it won’t be but you never know.
Just over a week ago it was announced that John Hurt had died. He was a phenomenal actor who could turn his hand to any role. He was a chameleon and would always sparkle on screen, especially in his more villainous parts. So learning that he had been battling cancer was clearly devastating to his fans. So, in honour of greatest works, I was planning on using this TBT post to discuss one of Hurt’s greatest film roles. Then I found out it was fucking Groundhog Day and I decided I couldn’t miss the chance that had fallen in my lap. I’ll move the memorial post to next week and discuss one of the greatest films of all time. It’s one I’ve loved for a long time and was delighted to study in my one year of taking film studies at University. I didn’t carry on the subject because I wasn’t a fan of the course or the lecturers but it will always live on in my memory as the only time I’ve ever been able to watch some of my favourite films, like Groundhog Day and Beauty and the Beast, and call it work. Movie night with my flatmates as a learning experience? That’s the kind of shit I can get behind. As much as I love studying poetry it’s not quite the same.
As someone who grew up in the UK and didn’t really give much thought to the world outside my little social bubble, Groundhog day never meant anything to me until I saw this film. Now the quirky annual American event has become synonymous with repetition. The film centres around the small town tradition that states if a Groundhog comes out of its burrow on February 2nd and the weather is cloudy Spring will come early. However, the film really has very little to do with the celebration that takes place every year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Instead it has everything to narcissistic TV weatherman, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) becoming stuck in a time loop and repeating the day over and over. To begin with, Phil tries to have fun with his situation and live a hedonistic and wild life without consequences. Over time, his life becomes more bleak and he realises that he has time to become a better person. After all, it’s the only way he can end his quest to win the heart of his producer, Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell).
Phil has been forced to cover the Groundhog day celebration in Punxsutawney for years and, it’s safe to say, he has a great deal of contempt for the assignment. He considers the town and it’s people to be insignificant and the holiday to be a huge joke. He believes he’s meant for better things than interviewing a Groundhog about when Spring will arrive. So, it’s the ultimate karmic revenge when every time he wakes up February 2nd has started over again. Phil relives the same day an unspecified number of days but there have been several attempts to work it out. These range from the modest 8 year, 8 months and 16 days to the more harrowing 33 years 350 days. Still, looking at the amount of shit that Phil achieves and manages to work out about the town people, it’s clear that he celebrated Groundhog dog an awesome number of times.
Despite the endless feeling of déjà vu that both Phil and the audience will get as the narrative repeats itself, Goundhog Day never feels old. It’s continually fresh, funny and heartwarming. That feeling comes, not from a relentless silliness that was probably most associated with Murray at this time, but from the mixture of light-hearted and deep issues that Phil deals with. Yes, he has fun with the endless cycle by eating whatever he wants and using his insider knowledge to bed women. On the other hand, he deals with dark issues like suicide and the realisation that his shallow life cannot sustain him. Harold Ramis and Billy Murrary reportedly argued about the overall tone of the film; with Ramis wanting to keep things firmly in the comedy camps whilst Murray wanted to go for a more melancholy tone. In the end, the film works so well because it is neither one thing or the other. The two ideas, like the director/actor combo, work so well together that is is seamless.
That’s what has made Groundhog Day such a classic. It uses the greatest of Murray’s comedy and dramatic chops and has become the kind of film that not only succeeds in multiple viewings but basically demands it. The late, great Roger Ebert initially awarded the film a very respectable 3 star rating but, when he revisited it, admitted that he has dismissed many of the film’s great points. The actual Groundhog Day festival may have been overshadowed by this cinematic masterpiece but it does provide the perfect excuse to rewatch Bill Murray at his best every single year. Groundhog Day is a sweet, funny, and incredibly clever film that you’ll want to watch over and over again.