Groundhog Day

Year: 1993
Studio: Columbia
Director: Harold Ramis
Producer: Harold Ramis
Writer: Harold Ramis/Danny Rubin
Cast: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliot, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray
How could a comedy about something so bizarre become such a beloved classic? You just wouldn't think such a well-trod comic path to redemption would consistently rate so high on Best Movies lists.

There's probably a scientific basis for Groundhog Day, but there doesn't need to be one. Phil Connors (Murray) doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about the quantum physics of his predicament, he and director Ramis just take us for the ride.

Taking the Simpson and Bruckheimer high-concept pitch and applying it to comedy instead of high-octane thrills (guy wakes up endlessly in the same day, has to learn selflessness and love to move on), it's a simple and beautiful idea; the archetypal Scrooge myth, which Murray visited once before in the little-seen but endlessly watchable Scrooged. Maybe the simplicity is the reason for its appeal.

The other reason is Bill Murray.

Now, I have something of a hidden source of pride here. Bill Murray's been my favourite actor since the days of Ghostbusters . He's only achieved the high status he now enjoys because of dramatic fare like Lost in Translation and highbrow comedy like Broken Flowers that's taken advantage of his deadpan countenance. Now he's everyone's favourite actor.

This was the tail-end of Murray's out-and-out comedy era. After this there was only The Man Who Knew Too Little and his frat-humour days were over, Rushmore just over the horizon and destined to remake him.

Hard-nosed, cynical and self-centered TV weatherman Phil is sent to what he considers the hellhole of Punxsatawney, Pensylvannia for the annual Groundhog festival. There the locals enjoy a few days of harmless frivolity while they observe the town tradition, where the mayor (Doyle-Murray) asks Phil the sacred groundhog if he sees a shadow, signalling six more weeks of snow.

Desperate to get out of Punxsatawney and continue his callous climb to the top of TV, Phil and his crew, cameraman Larry (Elliot) and producer Rita (MacDowell) are snowed in and have to stop over in a motel.

To his horror, Phil awakens the next day - in Groundhog day once again. And as the original TV promo said 'he's going to live it again and again until he gets it right.'

Trying to work out what the universe wants from him, Phil at first exploits the situation to it's full potential - robbing an armoured truck, scamming on a beautiful local and stuffing himself with junk food - but things soon turn desperate. Not even suicide is an escape, and Phil soon realises he's never going to move on from Groundhog Day until he makes some changes.

Manipulating a convoluted crosshatch of good deeds still isn't enough until Phil starts to pursue the thing he wants most - Rita.

The broad laughs are thick on the ground, as they almost have to be in a Bill Murray movie. He exudes sarcastic humour with every word, and the main reason his vanity project The Razor's Edge didn't work years ago was because he reigned that sardonic, hangdog self in. It was the same reason Jarmusch's Broken Flowers failed to impress.

But - almost unwittingly - it's one of those films you can watch again and again, not just because of the nuances of Phil's journey, but because Ramis' script and direction interlay so much detail throughout the quest.

Sadly, after an unknown (to me) falling out, Ramis and Murray have never spoken again. Although they've each fared extremely well as film artists since, all their best work is still together. To wit; who you gonna call?

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