"Okay Campers, Rise and Shine, and Don't Forget Your Booties, 'cause it's Cold Out There"
"It's cold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?
Not hardly. You can expect hazardous travel later with that blizzard thing.
"That blizzard thing?" Here's the report. The National Weather Service is calling for a big blizzard...thing.
Yes they are. But there's another reason why today is especially exciting.
And especially cold.
...And especially cold, OK, but the big question on everybody's lips--
Their chapped lips!
On their chapped lips... Do you think Phil will come out and see his shadow?
Punxsutawney Phil. That's right, woodchuck chuckers...
It's Groundhog Day!"
It's the 2nd of February, which means that it is Groundhog Day...again. One of the most overused comparisons of late. But to say that we're all living our own personal Groundhog Day is to do an enormous disservice to one of the greatest feelgood films of all time.
It focuses on the life of the cynical and jaded Phil Connors, a Pennsylvania weatherman, played by Bill Murray, and his trip to the small town of Punxsatawney to cover the local annual tradition of Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is where the town's Groundhog mascot (also named Phil!) is said to emerge from hibernation and predict whether there will be six more weeks of Winter, or whether it will be an early Spring. The tradition itself is for real, and is rooted in Celtic and Germanic origins.
Murray's character, Phil Connors, makes a prediction that a blizzard is going to bypass Pennsylvania entirely, but much to his dismay, he finds that the blizzard in fact does hit them, and leaves him and his crew stranded in Punxsatawney after the shoot. He returns to his hotel, and finds that the next day is...Groundhog Day. Again. And so he finds himself stuck in a time loop, replaying the same day over and over, stranded in a small town that he despises, forced to cover the festivities of an event he couldn't care less about, with a crew he doesn't like. His awareness of the time loop causes Phil to become even more cynical, and eventually he realises that even his own life is of no consequence, and tries to commit suicide several times, only to wake up again and find that it is still the 2nd of February.
What I love about Groundhog Day is its ability to take the really surreal, high-concept idea of being stuck in time to explore a very intricate human experience. Although Phil Connors' behaviour starts out as self-destructive, erratic and uncaring, he eventually begins to use his time spent reliving the same day endlessly to better himself, and he begins a journey of transcendence. For starters he memorises the day's events down to a tee and becomes an extremely skilled ice sculptor and pianist, but more importantly, he begins to help and get to know the quirky characters of the town, including his crew, and builds a routine in which he goes around town helping people out. He fixes an old lady's car, he catches a kid that falls out of a tree, he ensures an old homeless man's last day isn't spent alone, and he stops a man from choking to death. Despite his initial distaste at his producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, and her optimistic outlook, he begins to get to know her intricately. Of course, she forgets everything that happens between them with each reset of the day, but Phil does not. Initially, he's somewhat sleazy about it all and manipulates Rita by saying what he knows she wants to hear, but she becomes suspicious and ends up blowing him off.
Eventually, however, Phil's journey brings him wisdom, and he genuinely falls in love with the person that Rita is, and approaches her in a much more earnest fashion. It ends with Phil living an entirely different version of the once-nightmarish day in Punxatawney - he truly lives the best version of that day; spreading joy, laughter and love to the small blizzard-stricken town. And with that, he wakes up to a new day, with Rita beside him.
The performances of Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell are the real heart and soul of the piece, and their yin and yang character personalities serve as an excellent centrepiece for the film to be shaped around. I'm not particularly a fan of romcoms as such generally, but I think that Groundhog Day is so much more than simply a romcom that you'd be severely missing out by defining it as such, and passing it by.
Ultimately we get no explanation for how Phil ends up reliving his personal nightmare day to begin with. We get no real indication of how long he spent in this time loop (although some fans have had a pretty good pop at working it out). Ultimately, the intricacies - the hows, the whys and the logical explanations - aren't what this story is about at all. It's a story about making the most of your days. It's a story about how the small things you do can make an enormous difference to those around you. It's a story about escaping from patterns of self-destruction, forgiveness, growth, love, and it teaches a lesson in looking outwards in order to nurture change within. It's a heart-warming, hilarious, romantic, feel-good film, and it's one cinematic experience that I'll gladly relive again and again.
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