Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stubs - Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day (1993) Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott. Directed by Harold Ramis. Screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis. Story by Danny Rubin. Produced by Trevor Albert, Harold Ramis. Run Time: 101 minutes. U.S.  Color. Romantic Comedy, Comedy

Ever want a do-over; the chance to make a day turn out better?  Who wouldn’t? But would that do-over be a curse or a blessing, especially if that day never changed? That is the question that faces Phil Connors (Bill Murphy), a self-absorbed TV weatherman from Pittsburgh.

On February 1st, Phil is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover that town’s famous Groundhog Day festivities. With him are Rita (Andie MacDowell), a newbie news producer and Larry (Chris Elliott), a veteran cameraman. Phil is put up in a Bed and Breakfast, while Rita and Larry are booked into less charming accommodations.

The next morning, Phil is awoken at six a.m. by Sonny and Cher hit I’ve Got You Babe on the radio and DJ patter that becomes all too familiar about the cooooold weather:

"I guess that's so we don't have a pot..."

After coffee in the B&B’s dining room and small talk with the proprietor, Phil sets out on foot. On the way, he passes an Old Man who lives on the streets (Les Podewell); Phil pretends he has no money for the beggar. Next, Phil is accosted by an old friend, Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), who tries to sell him insurance. Phil gets away, but steps into a deep puddle of ice-cold water.

On his way to the ceremony, Phil (Bill Murray) is confronted by Ned Ryerson
(Stephen Tobolowsky), an annoying insurance salesman Phil went to high school with.

Later, Phil arrives to watch the townspeople go through their play with the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. After doing a taped report, Phil and crew prepare for the drive back to Pittsburgh. But a sudden snowstorm, one which weatherman Phil did not predict, shuts down the highway and forces them back to town.

Producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), and cameraman, Larry (Chris
Elliott), accompany Phil to the Groundhog Day festivities.

At 6:00 o’clock the next morning, everything starts all over again, complete with I’ve Got You Babe on the radio, followed by the same small talk between the hosts of the local radio station. Coffee at the B & B’s dining room, a run in with Ned Ryerson, the festival to see if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. A snowstorm forces them off the highway and the day repeats. But only Phil knows what is going on as Rita and Larry seem oblivious.

Get used to seeing it, Phil does.

As the phenomenon continues, Phil is convinced he is free of long-term consequences and not only starts to eat recklessly, but also to seduce women, in this case Nancy Taylor (Marita Geraghty), whom Phil spots in the diner. He asks her some personal questions and uses them the next day to act as if he’s a high school alumnus and their meeting is accidental. But as they are having sex, Phil repeatedly calls her Rita.

An attractive woman, Nancy Taylor (Marita Geraghty) catches Phil's eye and
he uses knowledge he learns one Groundhog Day to woo her the next one.

Groundhog Day after Groundhog Day pass and Phil learns routines, which allows him to steal money from an armored truck with a hapless crew. He goes out drinking one night at the bowling alley with a couple of locals, Gus (Rick Ducommun) and Ralph (Rick Overton), who feel their lives, too, are exactly the same day after day.
Having met kindred spirits, he offers to drive them home, hitting mailboxes and driving on the railroad tracks on the way. Finally pulled over, Phil treats the policeman like a drive through window and orders food. Unamused, the police throw the three into jail.

Phil befriends a couple of locals, Ralph (Rick Overton) and Gus (Rick Ducommun),
who feel as trapped in their daily routine as Phil is in his.

But when 6:00 comes, Phil is back in his B & B bed and Sonny and Cher are singing on the radio. Nothing has changed for Phil.

One time too many. One morning, Phil pops Ned before he can go into his insurance spiel.

He tries to get close to Rita, taking days to plan every stop, every piece of dialogue, no doubt reliving every moment of their date trying to get past each stumbling block, only to see his efforts fail to win her. He recites by rote what he thinks she wants to hear at any given moment. Rita, herself, picks up on Phil’s laundry list of things she likes and hates. She senses Phil is playing her, she just has no idea how much.

Phil makes mental notes about what Rita likes and doesn't. White chocolate is out.

You can’t blame Phil for growing despondent as the Groundhog Days wear on. He gives less than professional reports from the scene, what’s the use, and eventually, in an effort to end the cycle, kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil. During a police chase, which Rita and Larry cover, Phil drives off a high cliff into the quarry, killing the two Phils in a fiery explosion.

Phil and Phil on the run from the law. It doesn't end well for either of them.

But 6:00 the next morning, Groundhog Day starts all over again. Phil tries many times to kill himself, we see him trying to electrocute himself, walking in front of a moving truck and jumping off a tall building, but alas that doesn’t work either. Phil is sort of immortal, waking up the next Groundhog Day to an unchanging world.

Phil in one of his more spectacular attempts to end his life and get out of his Groundhog Day hell.

Phil tries to become a better person, trying in vain to save the Old Man’s life. No matter what he does for the vagrant, giving him money, taking him to the hospital, getting him a hot meal, nothing works. Every night, the old man dies. There are limits to what Phil can do even with all the time in the world.

Try as he might, Phil can't save the Old Man's life.

Phil knows everyone’s routine so well, that he ends up as a sort of guardian of the town. When a car of older women has a flat tire, Phil is there with a new tire and a jack. When a boy falls from a tree, Phil is there to catch him. When Groundhog Day MC, Buster Green (Brian Doyle-Murray) chokes on a piece of steak at a restaurant, Phil performs the Heimlich maneuver and saves him. No need seems too big or too small for Phil, even lighting a woman’s cigarette.

Always there at the right moment, Phil saves Buster Green (Brian Doyle-Murray)
from choking. Brian is Bill's real life brother.

Every Groundhog Day, Phil tries to improve himself, learning ice sculpture, French and even the piano. The latter we see him bribing his piano teacher (Peggy Roeder) a $1000 dollars for a lesson, which prompts her to dismiss the student she was working with. Over time, Phil becomes a better and better piano player.

Phil hires a piano teacher (Peggy Roeder) because Rita mentions her ideal
man would, among other things, play an instrument. 

Eventually, Phil becomes comfortable with his situation and his better self. He brings coffee and pastry to Rita and Larry, performs a heartfelt report so eloquent that the other stations covering the event stop their own coverage to broadcast his.

Phil quotes Chekov in his most stirring Groundhog Day standup.

He goes about his routine, running "errands" as he goes.

Every day Phil saves the same boy who falls from a tree and never thanks him.

After the town’s dance, where Phil blows everyone away with his piano playing, even his teacher is impressed, Rita buys Phil as part of “the bachelor auction” and they spend the evening together. On their way out, they run into Ned, who tells Rita that Phil bought just about every type of insurance there is. But when Ned tries to go with them, Rita begs off. Now an improved Phil impresses her with who he is, rather than who he has pretended to be to impress her. Rita spends a platonic night with Phil.

Rita buys Phil at a bachelor auction.

When the clock rolls to 6:00 and I Got You Babe plays again on the radio, Phil’s first thought was it hadn’t worked, but when Rita’s arm reaches past him to turn off the alarm, he knows something’s different. The DJ’s patter has changed. He runs to look out the window and there is snow on the ground and no one in the streets. It is a new day and a new beginning for Phil.

They emerge to play outside in the snow and Phil tells Rita that maybe they should consider living in Punxsutawney.

Punxsutaney's not such a bad place when you have free will again.

There has been some debate on how long Phil has been stuck in Groundhog Day Rewind. While the film doesn’t really come out and say so, based on the director’s comments, it’s thousands of years, which helps explain how Phil could master ice sculpture, piano and French. Talk about having the gift of time.

It seems like now, Hollywood has a movie for every holiday major or not, the latest being Labor Day, which may or may not have anything to do with the Monday holiday. But I doubt any of them are as original in vision as Groundhog Day. Based on an original script by Danny Rubin, it took Harold Ramis to shape it into a movie.

Ramis, who appears briefly in the film as a neurologist Phil confers with when the day first repeats, like Bill Murray, came from National Lampoon and Second City comedy troupes. He originally came to New York with Murray, whom he frequently collaborated with to write of the National Lampoon Show for radio. But unlike Murray, Ramis did not get involved with Saturday Night Live, but rather was head writer on Second City TV.

Harold Ramis plays a neurologist in Groundhog Day, which he also co-wrote, directed and co-produced.

If you look at Bill Murray’s early comedic film successes, Ramis’ name is somewhere in the credits. Ramis co-wrote Meatballs (1979); Caddyshack (1980), which he also directed; Stripes (1981); Ghostbusters (1984); Ghostbusters II (1989); and Groundhog Day, all starring Murray.

The two apparently had a falling out during the making of Groundhog Day, which is probably why a Ghostbusters III has been so long in coming.

Ramis’ name hasn’t always been associated with success, however, Analyze That (2002), a sequel to his own Analyze This (1999); and Year One (2009) didn’t exactly make back their budgets and his remake of Bedazzled (2000) falls flat when compared to the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore classic from 1967.

However, Groundhog Day may be his best complete film as a writer-director. Groundhog Day is both funny and poignant. Smartly written, the film can make you laugh and make you think as well. Are you also trapped in your own version of Groundhog Day and what will make you break the mold?

I would recommend Groundhog Day, but it can be enjoyed any day of the year whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow.

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