If there’s a film I see named by comedians as being influential more than any other, it’s Groundhog Day (1993). Similarly, the film’s director Harold Ramis and star Bill Murray, have an aura that seems to hold sway more in the comedian community compared to the broader public sentiment.
Often the exact reasons as to why these differences in standing preserve are intangible. But Groundhog Day also makes plain many of the reasons why. Whilst zany and offbeat, the film is impeccably and very tightly structured. The repeating structure is a framework from which Ramis and Murray can weave their magic. To achieve this, the script from Ramis and Danny Rubin cleverly builds slight layers on top of itself. It references and slightly tweaks aspects from the ‘day’ before. This is a major reason why the simple plot of Murray’s egotistical and rude TV weatherman Phil being stuck in a time loop, waking every day in a two-bit town that he despises, never becomes numbingly boring like so many of the film’s imitators. The script reflects the film as a whole. It is boisterous and thoughtful, as is the way the film is put together and progresses through musical choices and the editing. Not only that, what is such a tired plot structure actually feels very fresh here, with the script exploring all the nooks and crannies that the concept presents. The structure is used to novel ends, with the generic ‘arc’ or change of a character we expect in basically all films, technically compressed into a single day span.
There is little doubt that a couple of the film’s plot points jar a contemporary sensibility (or perhaps just my contemporary sensibility). For a time that Murray’s character simply uses his predicament to bed women. At one point he practically tries to rape his love interest, and whilst he does in a way get his comeuppance for these acts, it is not as direct as it maybe could have been. Later on though, the manner in which Phil respectfully interacts with Andie MacDowell’s Rita and uses his ability to re-live the same day in their relationship, feeds into the core arc of the film. Those earlier moments, simply using his ‘skill’ to get into the pants of hot women around town, don’t serve the same narrative purpose. Murray’s reputation as one of the supreme comic performers is supported by this film. Right from the get-go, you can sense his comedic timing and rhythm. His whole body conveys that, his subtle movements and just the way he carries himself. These talents allow him to have the audience in the palm of his hand, whether he’s being the jerk you love to hate or the silly clown making you roar with laughter. Whilst she does not do much of the comedic heavy lifting in a ‘straight’ role, MacDowell has a really nice naiveté to her character that suits the plot and allows the audience to better appreciate the arc of Phil. The other standout performance is Michael Shannon in a wonderful two scene or so effort, mainly because it involves a Wrestlemania reference.
Verdict: This really is an exceptionally funny film and perhaps career best work from Ramis and Murray. Whilst there are occasional beats that are now a little dated, this is one of the smartest comedy scripts ever brought to life and is one of those classics that you need to track down if you’ve never seen. Pint of Kilkenny