Sometimes movies are what they are on their face, and sometimes they are much more. Groundhog Day is one of those films that you can watch and enjoy at a very surface level and laugh along with, but on subsequent watches there really is more to it than that. This movie tells the story of what it is like to grow up, it is a bout personal development, and perhaps most importantly, it emphasizes that the world does not need to change for you to improve your own standing in life.
In case you have never seen this staple of Bill Murray comedy, I’ll lay out the premise. Groundhog Day was released in 1993 and stars Bill Murray as a local TV weatherman, who is juvenile in his antics but also has a self entitled sense of deserving more than what he has. It is directed by Harold Ramis and costars Andie McDowell and Chris Eliot. Murray and his boss Rita (McDowell) and camera man Lary (Eliot) travel to Punxsutawney to film the ground hog festivities and report back if spring will be on time. This type of trite reporting is seemingly below Phil (Murray) and he has no problem letting anyone and everyone know it. After a blizzard expectantly moves in, the crew is forced to spend the night in town. When Phil awakes the next day, re discovers it is Groundhog Day all over again. Everyday he wakes up he is forced to live the same day, this day he hates in this town he hates with these people he hates, over and over again.
It goes on from there. Baked into this story is ample fodder for slapstick gags and snappy dialogue, and Ramis and Murray hit it out of the park, as you would expect them to. This was end of an era for this team, who also collaborated on Stripes, Ghostbusters, Caddy Shack, and Meatballs. However the underlying theme of the movie is actually more serious than that. In my interpretation it is about self discovery and coming of age.
Think of the character of Phil as a typical Hollywood projection of a teenage child in the beginning of the movie. Brash, self-entitled, rude, and over confident. In the early days of the groundhog repeat cycle, his perception of the world around him is challenged, and he reacts predictably, by rebelling. He is frustrated by the situation and chooses to deny it and fight back. Confused and angry as his situation continues, despite his best efforts, he starts taking advantage of the situation for cheap personal thrills. He robs a bank each day and spends money frivolously. He beds as many women as he can. He drinks, a lot. So basically, these are the college years.
This, of course, gets old for Phil after some time, and so he enters a phase of depression. He feels compelled to break this self destructive cycle by literally destroying himself. He quickly learns that this does not work, it does not fix anything.
We don’t really know, at this point, how many days this has cycled on, but we know it has been quite some time. It is some where in here that he starts to fall in love with Rita. He twists and contorts himself in every way he can to impress her, he tries to learn her secrets, and then changes himself to fit what he thinks she wants. Of course, none of this works, until he let’s it go and stops trying to be something for someone else, and decides to invest in himself.
That’s where the coming of age story blossoms. Once he realizes that he can’t get ahead controlling and manipulating others, but can only improve himself, he starts to see results. He learns the piano, he begins helping others, and Rita takes notice. Once this all takes hold, and he full fills his passions and Rita falls for him because of who he is, not what he does, that the cycle is broken.
So there we have it, a topical, situation based comedy with a much more interesting and personal message.
Overall I give Groundhog Day an A on the Movie Slant rating scale. Have you seen this classic? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below and let’s keep the conversation going.