So I was at a birthday party at the weekend and I got talking to this girl about films. She listed a few of her favourites (like The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and some others) and then I mentioned one of my all-time favourites Groundhog Day. She said she’d seen it but hadn’t really thought much about it which I took as an opportunity to spend the next 10 minutes telling her how great a film it is, why it’s such a great film and why it gets better the more times you see it. And now it’s your turn…
The basic premise of the film is a rather unsavoury weather man – Phil Connors played masterfully by Bill Murray – finds himself and a film crew in a town called Punxsutawney to report on the tradition that if a groundhog (we call them marmots in Europe) emerges from its lair and sees its shadow then the Winter will last a few weeks longer – otherwise it’s hello Spring! Phil is completely unenthused about the whole thing and is rude, inconsiderate, obnoxious, sexist and a real jerk. He then wakes up the next day to find that it is once again Groundhog day and he’s reliving it. Rather confused he goes through the motions, does his report again and goes to bed. But he wakes up once again on Groundhog day.
What I love about Groundhog Day is that as you watch him stuck living the same day over and over again you feel the same thoughts and feelings as him. First of all you’re wondering “what the hell is going on?”. Then he starts to use it to his advantage to chat up women and pull them. He realises he can do anything he likes without consequence and enjoys that for a while. He takes the time to learn to play the piano and carve ice sculptures, amongst other things. But then he starts to get sick of the whole thing and you feel his pain. Each morning he’s awoken by the song “I got you babe” by Sonny and Cher and after a while you start to hate hearing it yourself – he throws the radio against the wall, breaks it and you know you’d do the same yourself.
So he tries killing himself but just wakes up and the day starts over. He becomes desperate and just wants out – but he’s stuck living the same day over and over again. His producer Rita – played by Andie MacDowell – takes his fancy but while attempting to get her into bed in a single day (she hates him at the start of the day so it’s a tall order), he manages to fall in love with her. The night ends with her slapping him in the face but he can try it again and again and again – or so he thinks. No matter how he tries to perfect the day he just can’t reproduce the spark that made him fall for her and eventually he just gives up.
There’s a beautiful scene that you’d miss if you watched it for the first time (I know I did). While trying to woo Rita for the first time he gets in a snowball fight with some kids and they end up falling in the snow together in just such a way that they catch each other’s eye and that’s when he falls for her. In subsequent nights he tries to make that random moment happen again but he just doesn’t fall in the right position and it just never happens again. Phil starts to realise he can’t make things happen just because he wants them to to suit his own ends.
So eventually he resigns himself to being stuck on the same day by revelling in it. He gets to know everybody, manages to synchronise his day so that he can catch a kid who falls out of a tree, replace a flat tyre for some old ladies who break down, perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a man choking in a restaurant and by doing all that becomes a changed me. An old homeless man dies over and over again and Phil tries his best to save him but eventually realises he can’t – he’s not God. In the end Rita falls for the new Phil and he finds tomorrow finally comes.
It’s a brilliant film and has a great deal of subtle undertones that only become apparent the more you watch it. When he goes bowling with some of the locals and tells them that he’s living the same day over and over one of them replies with something like “I know exactly what you mean”. We all drift through the same day over and over again and feel like we’re in Groundhog Day, but Phil broke the cycle by stopping worrying about it and trying to make the best of each day and making those around him happy (even though he only actually had one of them). So if you haven’t seen it then I recommend you sit down and watch it. Laugh along and have Sonny and Cher too – but look beneath the surface and see if it makes you think.
Oh, and if you don’t and you’re ever unlucky enough to talk films with me you’ll get this whole lecture and I’ll keep going on at you until you promise me you’ll watch it. Or maybe you’ll promise me you’ll watch it and mentally cross me off your “speak to again” list – which is probably what that poor girl on Saturday night did!