Groundhog Day is a brilliant movie. Once you get past its quirky premise, that a man has to live one day – Groundhog Day – over and over and over again, you begin to see a film that’s not only funny, but smart, and romantic, and redemptive.
Bill Murray (Great American Things, April 25, 2009) does an exceptional job as weatherman Phil Connors. This role is the bridge between his broader comedies and the more sophisticated parts he played in Rushmore and Lost in Translation. Andie MacDowell does a serviceable job as the female lead, but this is Murray’s movie.
Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed Groundhog Day, but nothing he did before or has done since would hint that he had this movie in him. I consider it the It’s a Wonderful Life (Great American Things, December 1, 2009) of our generation. Consider: both fantasy stories, both with a protagonist who’s frustrated by his life, both of whom end up doing what’s right despite the personal cost to them. And both of whom are rewarded with joy and satisfaction as a result. In It’s a Wonderful Life, it starts to snow when Jimmy Stewart (Great American Things, April 8, 2009) says he wants to live again; in Groundhog Day, it starts to snow when Murray realizes that whatever happens in the future, he’s happy now.
The American Film Institute named the movie its number eight fantasy movie of all time, and number 34 comedy. But perhaps the film’s greatest tribute is how the phrase “Groundhog Day” is now a part of the language, indicating any experience that’s repeated time and again.