Groundhog Day

[This review includes spoilers!]

"What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."

Yes, it's funny. But there's also something Zen-like about Groundhog Day. Phil, a shallow, self-centered, obnoxious weather man from Pittsburgh, starts out as such a worthless human being. He goes through pretty much every possible internal change he can experience, and comes out the other side a different and much better person.

When he realizes that there are no consequences to anything he does, Phil initially has a grand old time -- eating like a pig, seducing a passerby, doing whatever he wants. When he realizes he might be stuck forever, he becomes suicidal and kills himself repeatedly. And then Rita becomes the focus of his existence. When he treats her as an object to be obtained and manipulates her with the knowledge he gains through many repetitions, she rejects him repeatedly because she can tell he isn't sincere. Phil starts to change when he begins to see Rita's innate goodness for what it is, and unconsciously starts to emulate her.

Just as if he went through stages of grief, Phil finally arrives at acceptance. He improves himself for the sake of improving himself, reading the classics, learning to play the piano and speak French. He studies medicine in an attempt to save the elderly bum, although he is ultimately unsuccessful. He establishes daily rounds in order to help others: the boy falling from the tree, the elderly ladies with the flat tire, the Heimlich maneuver at the party, buying insurance from Ned Ryerson. He absorbs the Golden Rule and embraces life to the fullest.

Deep down inside, Phil must have wanted to be a better person than he was. And in the end, he is. It's like God kept sending him back to the starting line until he learned how to be a good person. Isn't that the meaning of karma? To learn and grow through each lifetime in order to achieve perfection and harmony? I don't know if this was the writer's intention, but it's just beautiful. The change in Phil's soul is believable and genuinely heartwarming. And his reward is a return to normalcy, and someone to love.



All this makes it sound like Groundhog Day is a serious and deeply philosophical movie. It's not. It's extremely funny, and stays funny after repeated viewings. And it features an exceptional performance by Bill Murray, who shows that he is much more than just a comic. Andie MacDowell is also very good as Rita, who could have easily come off as a one-note character, but doesn't.

Groundhog Day is the perfect fantasy comedy. It's exceptionally entertaining and if you're looking for more in your movie, it's right there.

Bits and pieces:

-- Groundhog Day is a minor and rather silly American holiday. Both sides of my family are from Pennsylvania, although I've never been to Punxutawney. But it means something symbolically, too. If the groundhog sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of winter. For Phil, winter never ends until his "shadow" is gone.

-- This movie wasn't actually filmed in Punxutawney. Does anyone know where? Somewhere in central Pennsylvania, I think.

-- Steven Tobolowsky turns in a gem of a performance as Ned Ryerson. Bing! Am I right or am I right?

-- Phil and the groundhog have the same name. He is the groundhog.

Quotes: (and I restrained myself; if I missed one you love, feel free to post it!)

Phil: (doing the weather) "Out in California, they're going to have some warm weather tomorrow, gang wars, and some very overpriced real estate. Up in the Pacific Northwest, as you can see, they're going to have some very, very tall trees."

Rita: "You're missing all the fun! These people are great! Some of them have been partying all night long. They sing songs until they get too cold, and then they go sit by the fire and they get warm, and then they come back and sing some more."
Phil: "Yeah. They're hicks, Rita."

Phil: "This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather."

Phil: "Do you ever have deja vu, Mrs. Lancaster?"
Mrs. Lancaster: "I don't think so, but I could check with the kitchen."

Phil: "I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank pina coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters. *That* was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over, and over, and over?"

Phil: "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?"
Ralph: "That about sums it up for me."

Rita: "Do you ever have deja vu?"
Phil: "Didn't you just ask me that?"

Phil: "This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You're hypocrites, all of you."

Phil: "You like boats, but not the ocean. You go to a lake in the summer with your family up in the mountains. There's a long wooden dock and a boathouse with boards missing from the roof, and a place you used to crawl underneath to be alone. You're a sucker for French poetry and rhinestones. You're very generous. You're kind to strangers and children, and when you stand in the snow, you look like an angel."
Isn't this just a beautiful way of saying I love you?

Four out of four Pennsylvania polkas,

Billie
---
Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.

7 comments:

GglGrl Returns! said...

Actually, most of it was filmed in Illinois (at least according to the Internet).

I really enjoy this film. There is something Scroogesque about it (incidentally, I also love Scrooged).

HappyElk said...

Great review Billie! I'm really enjoying your going back to some classic movies, almost as much as I enjoy you and Ben reviewing Star Trek.

Stephen Tobolowsky is one of my heroes. His podcast at tobolowskyfiles.com is inspired and inspiring. As a film and TV lover, I think you'd really like it, Billie.

Austin said...

You know what's funny? I've seen people try to mathematically deduce how many years Phil spent living that one day over and over. It's actually kind of interesting. Did you ever wonder that? Great review, by the way. I love this movie.

Miranda said...

I actually watched this movie for a philosophy class. My midterm paper was on how his life relates to Camus' ideal of the absurd man. So you're not that far off in connecting it to Zen philosophy!

Anonymous said...

Austin, the original writer of this piece had Phil there for 10,000 years....That's ten THOUSAND years.

celticmarc said...

One of my top ten movies. Simply BRILLIANT. You can watch it with so many different pairs of eyes and it is still wonderful.

Barbara Taub said...

In 2003 the Museum of Modern Art offered a film series titled The Hidden God:Film and Faith featuring films on the cinematic religious or spiritual experience. Groundhog Day was the opening presentation among films by Hitchcock, Bergman, Woody Allen, etc, and the participating literary and religious scholars vied for the privilege of writing the program notes for this film. It has been viewed as an allegory and a moral fable and embraced by Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as atheists. Psychotherapists consider the time loop as a metaphor for arrested development. The philosophical connection is well established.