“It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life” – Phil Connors
If anyone would be relieved to see the 30th anniversary of this event, it would be Bill Murray’s aptly named Phil Connors. A cynical weatherman who is forced to relive the same day over and over and over again.
Phil is sent to Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney to report on the annual festivities the locals call Groundhog Day. A tradition in the small town that occurs on the 2nd of February every year, in which a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil” awakes from his burrowed slumber and announces (not literally) whether of not the residents will have to endure six more weeks of winter or not. The concept is crazy enough, the fact it’s a genuine event is even crazier.
Phil (the weatherman not the groundhog) rather understandably doesn’t buy into the nonsense of this celebrated event. He’s reported on it before and so isn’t overcome with joy when he’s asked to visit once more. His interactions with the townsfolk and the town itself are always of disinterest and he makes it clear that he can’t wait to leave. But that’s the problem, he can’t. Because no matter what he does, and however he ends his night, when he wakes up it’s the 2nd of February all over again. But it’s only him who’s having to relive the day. Punxsutawney becomes Phil’s purgatory.
After the first few days of bemusement, it doesn’t take long for Phil to fall on the ideas of grand theft auto and attempted suicide. “We could do whatever we want” he remarks to two of the NPC’s living in his nightmare. It’s applied with a more comedic tone of course despite the dark implications but as is never actually discussed in the film, and what nobody can accurately work out is precisely how many times Phil’s had to relive it. Some say decades, others have provided evidence that argues the timeline goes far beyond that, but the fact that this movie gives you nothing except for some timeless and perfectly scripted comedy is why it still holds up thirty years on.
It’s Phil’s interactions with the people of Punxsutawney that offers the comedic punches. From the irksome insurance man Ned “BING!” Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), to his work colleagues, news producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot). From delightful to dismissive, Phil’s mood changes by day. When he’s not learning new skills he’s learning everything he can about the residents, and even uses his growing knowledge as a desperate attempt to prove he’s not just going insane.
The script is full of silly gags, many of which are reoccurring, and the film’s editing style partners perfectly with the different scenarios and outcomes that Phil finds himself in.
My reaction to the quint little town of Gobbler’s Knob is shadowed in Phil’s own perception of it. At first annoying and odd, but after spending time there grows on you in its own weird way that much like Phil’s character progression, becomes charming and lively.
The strong partnership between Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis – who had worked together on Ghostbusters (1 and 2) and Stripes (1981) – is one that famously come to blows during the filming of Groundhog Day due mainly to creative differences between the pair. But at least the product that caused their problems was something that is still highly celebrated and enjoyed to this day.
Groundhog Day succeeds through its charm and wit. There’s no science involved or elaborate McGuffin behind the meaning of its plot, and you’re too busy having fun with it that you stop to even question it yourself. Murray’s mischievous behaviour keeps it fresh and feverishly entertaining even after multiple viewings.
Groundhog Day wasn’t the first to adapt the time-loop formula, but it’s the one most will remember. A perfect and timeless execution that has paved way for many to follow.