Bill Murray once called the movie of Groundhog Day movie being the best work he has ever done. 20 years after its release, the movie is still doing great job of taking your breath away by making you laugh so hard. “We don’t have forever”, and that’s one of the lessons of Groundhog Day full movie, but director David O. Russell happily slips in and out of voices and lines from the movie with his recollections punctuated by wistful sighs. This is what tends to happen when fans of Groundhog Day film get together.
On its release, the movie, directed by Harold Ramis, instantly took its place alongside long-cherished favorites such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Some Like It Hot. The movie was a hit, and if not a record-breaking one, Free Willy will made more money that year. It wasn’t even the biggest comedy of 1993, but if one of the marks of a great movie is that we can barely remember a time when it wasn’t in our lives, then Groundhog Day film passes that its competitor with ease. It seems to have been with us forever.
The movie has entered our language as shorthand for any period of intolerable monotony comparable to the one experienced by the misanthropic TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray). Phil is dispatched to the folksy town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania to cover the annual celebrations in 2nd February. That celebration revolves around a groundhog supposedly foreseeing the exact date of the arrival of spring. “This is one occasion where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather” as Phil sneers to camera. However, when he wakes the following morning, it is 2nd February again, and 2nd February it will remain indefinitely, rebooted each day at 6am, until Phil can figure out how to arrest the cycle. The answer lies within him.
The movie’s timelessness can be attributed partly to its classical redemptive narrative, which has echoes of A Christmas Carol. The redemption plot is one of the oldest shape of story shapes with so many movies sticking in. Still, Groundhog Day is such a clever, wonderful ride that you don’t notice the joins. It’s rare for a comedy to be funny and profound but also popular, only if they were insanely smart. Groundhog Day movie is living proof that it’s possible to create intelligent comedy that still has a broad appeal.
The movie is so great that its fans including director David O. Russell and artist Gillian Wearing. For Wearing, she included Groundhog Day in her all-time top 10 when polled last year by Sight & Sound magazine. “Groundhog Day movie is there primarily to entertain, but there are lots of really intelligent ideas in it. It makes me think of [the French philosopher Gilles] Deleuze and his thoughts on how change can arise from repetition. The film follows that to the letter.” as she shared.
Back to the movie, co-writer Danny Rubin was, in fact, urged to write a Gypsy-curse scene explaining the loop, and he did but Ramis wisely never shot. The mystery has only fortified the movie’s magic. Its chances of longevity were helped by a purge on period references. Rubin urged Ramis to expunge any nods to the 1990s “You’ve gotta take all this out because this movie is really going to go on for years and years”.
Speak to any of the movie’s admirers and one word comes up repeatedly which is perfect. “I thought straight away that it was a classic” says Wearing. “It’s like a Billy Wilder’s movie that other generations will understand immediately what’s so good about it. To me, it’s a perfect movie”. Russell also agrees that the movie is well structured and the idea is profound. “Very much like Silver Linings Playbook, it’s about someone fighting their demons using all that humble, difficult, baby-steps hard work that it takes, but doing it in such a hilarious way”, Russel shared. The movie’s message, as Russel interpret, shows that until you wake up and get things right, you’re going to live that stuff until you die.
Not only Russell and Wearing included Groundhog Day full movie in their top 10, the former Monty Python member Terry Jones also did. “What’s so remarkable about it,” Jones said, “is that normally when you’re writing a screenplay you try to avoid repetition. And that’s the whole thing here, it’s built on repetition. That’s so bold. The way they get through it is to short-circuit everything, so just when you think something is going to happen that you’ve seen before, the film gets to it before you and changes or abbreviates it in some way. I saw it when it came out and it just took my breath away.”
The movie still does, and as I watched the movie again last weekend, the movie played to a rapturous sold-out crowd who hung on Murray’s every poisonous putdown. Before Groundhog Day film, Murray was seen largely as a clown. After the movie, he was a complex actor with range. If the impact of Groundhog Day movie is still felt on Murray’s career, its influence on cinema in general is ever more prevalent. The movie has legitimized fantasy aspects in mainstream comedy so effectively that stars such as Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler spent years trying to replicate its formula.