"What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?" "That about sums it up for me."
There are films that don't necessarily need inventive and artistic camera shots, or groundbreaking special effects, or even gorgeous cinematography to be considered masterpieces. Sometimes a film like Groundhog Day comes along with a smart and charming story with performances and characters that are so well developed that it automatically connects with audiences by reaching for the heart, and turning it into an instant classic. With a premise that might seem boring due to the fact that the lead character has to repeat and live the same day over and over again in a small Pennsylvania town, director Harold Ramis manages to catch our attention by creating interesting characters and through a witty script he introduces important themes such as existentialism in a rather refreshing and light way. It is a very spiritual film without ever feeling religious. In a way the story reminded me of Dickens' A Christmas Story where you have an egocentric and arrogant character who is transformed once he experiences a supernatural event. In Groundhog Day the transformation is much more subtle while at times it does go to dark places. Ironically Bill Murray went on to play Scrooge in one of the many adaptations of Dickens' classic tale. Murray is the heart and soul of this film and although he is hard to like at the beginning of the film there is something about his performance that keeps us interested in him. This isn't one of those laugh out loud comedies (I don't think I laughed at a single scene), but it is so charming that it is impossible to resist and it leaves you with a smile on your face during its entire running time. Once it ends we realize how philosophical this film really was, but Ramis kept us so entertained that we didn't really pick up on it until the very end.
The original screenplay for Groundhog Day was co-written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin. It centers on a weatherman named Phil Connors (Bill Murray) working as a TV meteorologist for a local Pittsburgh station. Phil is an arrogant narcissist who is expecting to work for a more important broadcasting channel soon. On the eve of Groundhog Day, he is sent to the small town of Punxsutawney to cover the annual festivities along with his producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) with whom he doesn't get along very well. Phil hates this assignment which he has covered over the past four years so he doesn't put much effort into his report. After covering the event an unexpected blizzard forces the roads to close so Phil and his crew are stuck in Punxsutawney for another day. The next day Phil wakes up and realizes he has to relive Groundhog Day all over again and he's the only one that notices that the day unfolds in the exact same way. Everyone else seems to be living the day for the first time, but he finds himself stuck in the same day over and over again like if he were trapped in a loop hole with no way out.
The premise seemed boring for me at first considering I thought it was going to repeat itself too many times, but Murray's character is so fun and he relives each day in so many different ways that it managed to keep me entertained. At first Phil feels like he has gone mad and tries to rationalize things, but once he realizes his fate he decides to take advantage of it. Being the self centered person he is, Phil lives knowing he wont have to suffer any consequences, but eventually he grows tired of this hedonistic lifestyle. He feels so desperate that he tries to commit suicide in every possible way, but no matter what he does he still wakes up the next morning reliving Groundhog Day. Eventually Phil gives up on living for himself and begins looking at others and caring for them. He begins to find purpose and joy in life in helping others. Ramis has made a deeply spiritual and philosophical film without the audience realizing it at first. It could have become tedious and preachy, but it never does because the characters are subtly transformed and the growing chemistry between Phil and Rita is believable. Ramis found a way to reach out to our hearts and remind us that life isn't about living for ourselves, but finding pleasure in helping and caring for others. Groundhog Day is a movie about self-improvement and becoming a better person and I can't think of a better actor to have pulled it off so well as Bill Murray did in his transformation here.