UK Certificate: PG
US Certificate: PG
Intended audience: Older children and adults.
“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
Groundhog Day’s ingenious premise may not have been entirely original. 12:01 (released earlier in 1993) had a very different take on the idea, and the concept has certainly been reworked a number of times since. However, regardless of originality Groundhog Day is unquestionably a classic comedy that benefits from repeat viewings. It isn’t merely funny. Satirical, romantic, poignant and wise are all adjectives that also apply to this immensely likeable film.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, when cynical, self-obsessed weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) finds himself reliving the same day again and again, the scenario is mined for maximum laughs. Finding himself stuck in the same small town to deliver the same weather report over and over again, he quickly finds selfish ways he can turn the situation to his advantage. For example he can eat as much as he likes and never gain weight, break the law without consequence, obtain information on attractive women in order to seduce them, and so on.
Over time, such hedonism inevitably becomes boring, so Phil turns his attention to romance. But the object of his desire, Rita (Andie MacDowell), is not interested in him, no matter how much inside information he gains. Rejection turns to despair, and a vein of darker humour takes over as Phil tries to kill himself multiple times, in various ways, only to always awaken the next day, as his alarm clock plays Sonny and Cher’s I got you babe for the umpteenth time.
Gradually however, Phil finds a new focus. He decides to take up the piano (after all, he has unlimited days to learn). He helps a homeless man. He finds he is able to save lives that would have been lost on that day. Slowly but surely, he transforms himself into the town’s Good Samaritan.
Harold Ramis had worked with Bill Murray before (on Ghostbusters) but here takes on the role of director to tremendous effect (he also co-wrote the ingenuous screenplay with Danny Rubin). It’s arguably Bill Murray’s finest hour. His performance here perfectly captures both the comedy and melancholy of his baffling predicament, which incidentally is never explained. Nor does it need to be.
Ultimately, Groundhog Day resonates because we all know what it’s like when every day feels the same. Perhaps we’re stuck in the same dead end job, day in, day out. Or perhaps we feel trapped by routines, relationships and family problems. The lesson of Groundhog Day is not to allow such situations to result in self-pity, selfishness, self-indulgence and despair, but to instead take our eyes off ourselves and find ways to bless those around us.
The Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive, and only when Phil discovers this does he find meaning and joy in his own existence. Only then can he truly move on to the “next day” in his life. The Groundhog Day situation also speaks implicitly of God’s patience with us, waiting until we learn the lessons of the “day” we are in, before allowing us to move on with what he wants to bless us with in the future.