He may have come close with Ghostbusters and What About Bob?, but no other Bill Murray film is quite as deservedly beloved as the excellent Groundhog Day. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve definitely heard of it, and you know that that phrase doesn’t just refer to the holiday anymore, but also a day or situation that is all but impossible to get out of. (Being stuck at home amidst the COVID-19 disaster has had me feeling the exact same way, so don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about here.)
In the film’s case, that day would be—you guessed it—Groundhog Day, which grumpy weatherman Phil Connors (Murray) has to spend at Punxsutaweny, Pennslyvania to document the day’s festivities along with a pair of other reporters. Just when they this little trip is finally done and over with, a gigantic snowstorm forces them to take refuge at one of the town’s hotels. Then Phil wakes up the next morning to find that it’s literally the previous day again. Same thing goes for the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. And so on.
I won’t spoil anything more than that, but suffice it to say that, bar a couple moments of cheese and formula here and there, Groundhog Day’s script is consistently fantastic throughout. It knows all the little things that annoy people (that irritatingly friendly guy at the top of the hotel stairs, that annoying person from your childhood who can’t comprehend how much you dislike him, that one puddle your foot always happens to drop into by accident), all the things that they would just hate to have to go through over and over again, and uses them all to drive Phil out of his mind. This could have gone stupidly over-the-top in other hands, but Murray’s brilliantly dry, deadpan manner is just enough to keep everything grounded.
Around the film’s second half, however some more dramatic, tender scenes come into play, but they steer far clear of the deep pit of manipulative, unearned schmaltz a lesser film would tumble into without even a backward glance. True, they may stem from a plot point we all knew was coming right from the very beginning (Phil inevitably becoming a nicer person as a result of his predicament), but they are so real, tender, and superbly well-acted that little things like that are easily forgivable.
Speaking of “superbly well-acted”, let’s not forget the fact that Groundhog Day contains one of Murray’s greatest performances ever, comedic or otherwise (I have yet to see Lost in Translation, so that could change, but still). He is one of the only comedy actors I’ve seen who can play an absolute jerk and be hilarious and strangely lovable while doing so, then be genuinely touching when showing his softer, more serious side. Weren’t it for him, the film wouldn’t be nearly as good. Heck, it wouldn’t even be halfway there.
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