PG...in a world where PG-13 really was a thing. Seriously, we had no idea the power that the MPAA was wielding in the early '90s! This movie has multiple suicides and deaths, some pretty rapey behavior, an uncomfortable sex scene without nudity, and some mild language. I mean, it's great, but PG? Because it has an inappropriately happy score and clouds? I don't get it, but it is PG. I'll always rally for a PG rating on live action movies. It just doesn't make sense here. Also, there's implications that there is blood sausage in the glove box. That seems unsanitary. PG.
DIRECTOR: Harold Ramis
This is the movie that broke up Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. The universe is acting kind of weird right now. I didn't really plan to go on a Bill Murray kick lately. But then I showed my film club Ghostbusters because of the Ghostbusters 3 teaser that hit the internet. Next on the schedule was Groundhog Day. Then, my to-watch pile had Lost in Translation next. It's becoming a Bill Murray month. I mean, I like Bill Murray. I'm not the guy who wears the tee shirts. I heard some uncomfortable stuff with his ex-wife. But the behind-the-scenes story of Bill Murray on Groundhog Day is something that always kind of colors my thoughts on Bill Murray. So, how then, is this movie absolutely brilliant?
I don't think that Harold Ramis knew he was making a masterpiece. Murray and Ramis apparently argued about the tone of this film. I don't know if the movie would hold water if it was meant to be Oscar worthy. It's so strange watching the opening of the movie. The score and the color palate are so bizarre for a movie that probably gets me thinking more than any other comedy. It's always weird that when I start the movie, we get clouds passing by with that score. Then it goes into that "I'm Your Weatherman" song when they drive to Punxatawney. It's a very dated choice. Remember, I'm a huge fan of this movie but there are some indications that Ramis didn't know what he had in front of him. This isn't excusing Murray's behavior. At the end of the day, Ramis was the director and I think that Bill Murray just seemed really unhappy at the time. But keeping all this in mind, I think everyone who has seen this movie has enjoyed it. What happens as a result of this tonal inconsistency is an experience that messes with expectations. The movie being so darned cheery with its goofy music and it's somewhat hokey look is that when things start getting really dark, no one is really ready for it. Ramis is almost making another What About Bob? Yeah, if you wanted to claim that What About Bob? is also dark, that movie doesn't really hold a candle to Groundhog Day. I don't know how Ramis and his team came up with the idea for a timeloop movie, but it's weird that an entire subgenre of time travel movie now exists because of this film. Like, everyone references "Oh, just like in Groundhog Day." That is staggering, mainly because they got everything right in one. Yeah, other time loop movies end up bringing in elements that might be unique, like Happy Death Day's murder mystery element. But the entire genre is defined by the first first film to really take on the narrative. There are things we take for granted when we watch the movie because, of course Phil Connors would have to act that way. But at what point in the script writing process did someone decide that Phil would have memorized every version of the story and every variation of the story. For a journal question, I regularly ask them what is happening in their rooms right now. They tend to have a hard time wrapping their heads around that question. Rooms tend to be fairly predictable. But it is odd to think that the world keeps moving outside of our sphere of influence. Groundhog Day not only wraps its head around that concept, but includes how the appearance of an agent of chaos would completely affect and shape the variations around it.
But the movie isn't about the variations! Not really. Okay, I'm talking like a crazy person. Bill Murray has been in the timeloop for so long that variations rarely surprise him. We know something special is happening to the character because there is that moment of surprise for the character. It is usually accompanied by a moral boundary being crossed. But in Day Three, Phil is ready to die and get arrested. That's how quickly the story posits it would take for someone to throw caution to the wind. I don't know if that's a moral statement being presented in the film or, simply for pacing's sake, the movie needed to answer whether or not consequences existed in this reality. Yeah, I'd chalk it up to pacing. But it is an interesting notion that Phil has the time and patience to view every version of the story. It's not like has a choice. But Groundhog Day, every time I watch it, makes me ask questions that the movie probably has answers to. For example, if Phil Connors, at 6:00 am everyday, gets up and immediately hops in a car to head a single direction before the blizzard hits, would he be able to experience life in a different town? Has he tried freezing to death? (I think he has.) What if he stays awake until 6:00 am? Does he witness the world reshaping? One of my exchange students asked the darkest question I ever heard about Phil's morality when he watched it. I choose not to go into it, but I learned a lot about other cultures from that conversation. A good time travel story makes the viewer / reader ask questions and Groundhog Day has plenty of them. But a good time travel story also knows what answers to present and which answers to keep close to the vest. Groundhog Day, oddly enough, knows all of its answers. I know, there's a discrepancy between 8 years and change of solitude and 10,000 years of solitude. But I like the fact that is an idea that can be argued. If we found out every variation of February 2 in Punxatawney, there's no mystery and no storytelling. The concept is front and center in Groundhog Day, but we care about Phil. That's impressive.
Which brings about a trope that people tend to forget about in the Time Loop narrative: the protagonist has to be Ebenezer Scrooge. Yeah, Bill Murray was in Scrooged. There's a reason that it works. He plays that role a lot. He likes playing the cynical curmudgeon who gets a heart of gold. But Groundhog Day did that. I think all of the time loop stories I can think of start with a character who is a bit of a grump and through the course of this repeated day, becomes a better person. Think about how that shouldn't work. People don't go into isolation in prison and come out better people. They come out broken. This actually brings up a question that I'm only thinking about right now. Is Phil Connors actually a good person at the end of the movie? The longer he is in the time loop, the less actual good he is doing. His initial inclination when he discovers that there are no consequences is that he does every vile thing he can do. He seduces women by playing tricks on them. He steals. He eats whatever he wants. He insults people day and night and tries throwing people's lives into pandemonium. (New thought: Do you think Phil Connors found different ways to murder Ned Ryerson for, like, a year or something?) He even fakes being a good person to seduce Rita. But he never actually grows until later. Now, it seems like that would make him a good person. But part of his brain, and this ties into what makes a truly moral person, is that he's not doing good for its own sake. It's like he started off doing good because it was something different. Phil's punishment is that he has no variety. Everything is always the same, always. He messes with the threads because he has nothing better to do. Ramis and Murray kind of do something really smart with this. Part of me thinks, "Yeah, he's doing this for kicks." But realistically, I know this isn't the case. It's his reaction with Pops. Having Pops as the scene before the moral transformation is extremely telling. When he can't save Pops, he isn't viewing it as failure. After all, Phil Connors probably viewed death repeatedly on that day. (Remember, in the original timeline, the mayor of Punxtawney chokes to death on a steak.) But Pops plays out very differently. The death matters. Here's probably the crux of my argument. Nothing is permanent for Phil Connors except for the time loop, at least from his perspective. Death isn't permanent for him or for anyone in the time loop. Yet, Phil's moral decision is based on the idea that Pops keeps on dying, no matter what Phil does. His death matters. Pops has the worst end to a series of bad days and Phil takes moral responsibility for Pops. The thing is, Pops dies because Phil was bad every other day of his life. February 2 might be on a loop, but he can't change the one thing that he wants to change: the past. I suppose that it would be easy to claim that Phil wants to change his future. But there's also the message that Phil is obsessed with changing the past. He hates the man that people see him as. He relishes it when he's given a free pass because of his personality. But that moment when he stops focusing on the future and starts focusing on the past that the moral element comes out. Yeah, I would probably be a bigger monster in my time loop. But I like how Groundhog Day posits the opposite. It fights to say that everyone has a chance at redemption.
Groundhog Day is an absolutely brilliant movie. It is heartwarming and funny. Because it had little regard for itself, it transcends its format and kind has become part of our cultural zeitgeist. Maybe it is genius because it has merged a great story with a great character. But Groundhog Day is one of the greatest comedies not because of its hilarity, of which is has in spades, but because its depth.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.