Defining Bill Murray as an actor can prove to be an incredibly difficult thing, as his performances range from the incredibly absurd in something like Coffee and Cigarettes to disturbingly dreary and honest like in Lost in Translation, however, it seems agreed upon that his best performance exists within Groundhog Day. I must admit when I would read this it baffled me because having only now revisited the film for the first time since childhood, I seemed to remembered it being a highly comedic film with no social value. However, this revisitation afforded me the ability to see how contemplative Groundhog Day is, as well as providing a clear argument as to why Bill Murray's best performance does indeed exist within this film. The range of emotions played out throughout the films plot and Murray's ability to offer a keen and focused performance is truly a spectacle to behold. Sure the film is endearingly stuck in the nineties and much of the humor is formulaic, but Groundhog Day has enough unusual moments, sweet encounters and a honest questions about how one would spend their days were they to repeat them. This combination, along with the watchability of Groundhog Day helps to explain why it has cemented itself as a cult classic and as one of the best films of the nineties, so much so that it was chosen as one of the films to be saved by the National Film Archive.
Defining Bill Murray as an actor can prove to be an incredibly difficult thing, as his performances range from the incredibly absurd in something like Coffee and Cigarettes to disturbingly dreary and honest like in Lost in Translation, however, it seems agreed upon that his best performance exists within Groundhog Day. I must admit when I would read this it baffled me because having only now revisited the film for the first time since childhood, I seemed to remembered it being a highly comedic film with no social value. However, this revisitation afforded me the ability to see how contemplative Groundhog Day is, as well as provi....err, wait a second.
Groundhog Day follows disillusioned reporter Phil (Bill Murray) who is begrudgingly taking up his fourth trip to report on the famous Punxsutawney groundhog known for his predilections for weather reporting. Along with Phil are his two co-workers who see Phil as a blowhard with serious delusions of grandeur, his cameraman Larry (Christopher Elliot) and his producer Rita (Andie McDowell) whom Phil finds attractive. Awaking with much disinterest in performing his role as reporter, Phil goes through the motions as he drinks coffee, runs into a high school alumni and reads his lines as though it were just another day. However, a severe blizzard traps Phil and his crew in Punxsutawney for the night. This is when things begin to get weird, as Phil wakes up to realize that he is living the same day over and over again, stuck in a seemingly infinite loop, in what is to him the worst town on earth. At first Phil reacts by enjoying excesses, once he realizes that even if he kills himself, he will still wake up at six each morning to the tunes of Sonny and Cher. Eventually, Phil makes it a goal to win over Rita an effort that proves nearly successful, but not, perfect, particularly considering that any efforts he may make will be thwarted by having to start over the next day. Phil, ultimately, realizes that he must act out positively in order to make Rita take notice, something that is made exceptionally easy by the fact that he has each moment and action down to a science. His final winning over of Rita proves to be the means to break his curse, something he is careful to accept, but embraces warmly upon verification.
It is easy to see Groundhog Day as a run of the mill Bill Murray comedy, in which he rambles with near absurdity as the characters around him attempt to play the straight man to his funny. However, there is clearly a philosophical pondering that exists on the layer below the comedic narrative. For Phil each day becomes an ethical dilemma in that he is essentially engaging in actions that have no moral consequence. It is perfectly valid that he drive head on into trains, smoke and consume like a glutton or go to bed with a variety of women, because the fact is that he will wake up to live the next day, as though nothing ever happened. What becomes interesting is when he chooses to make positive actions, because they will go unacknowledged, particularly considering that Phil goes out of his way to learn and exact his help in a meaningful manner. It truly ponder the age old question of: if you do a good act in the woods, will anybody be there to acknowledge it being done. Of course the answer is no, but one should do it, nonetheless, because on some metaphysical karmic level it will be returned. Finally, the film also posits the ethical issues of exploiting individuals with whom you have an intellectual and experiential advantage over, particularly for one's own devices. Phil exploits his knowledge of the day to sleep with women and steal from banks, however, the narrative suggests that such actions will lead to disillusionment and despair, condemning them in the end. I am sure there are other lays to Phil and his philosophy, but I am not versed on the matter enough to expand further.
Key Scene: The initial winning over of Rita on Phil's part is quite sweet.
As a classic American comedy, Groundhog Day is a must-watch movie and it is currently watch instantly on Netflix giving you no reason to miss the opportunity.