GROUNDHOG DAY A film review by Mark R. Leeper Copyright 1993 Mark R. Leeper
Capsule review: If you could live one day over and over, as if you were replaying a video game, could you ever get the day perfect? What would be your best strategy? Bill Murray plays a weatherman reliving over and over February 2 in Punxsutawney, PA. What is the best he can make of the day? The premise is engaging and the execution entertaining. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4).
On May 5, 1961, TWILIGHT ZONE ran an episode called "Shadow Play," written by Charles Beaumont and directed by John Brahm. Dennis Weaver played Adam Grant, a man sentenced to death. It is the day Grant is to be executed for murder. He claims to have a sort of deja vu and can even tell people verifiable facts he seems to have no way of knowing. He claims that he is living the same day over and over. Eventually he is executed only to wake up in his cell with the same day starting over. This idea gets re-used and explored in detail in GROUNDHOG DAY.
Phil (played by Bill Murray) is a television weatherman with a funny on-screen persona. Of the television he is bitter and cynical and does just about whatever he can to make himself difficult to deal with. February 2, Groundhog Day, finds Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, filming the famous Groundhog Day festivities. Phil is less than thrilled and is making life miserable for his producer Rita (played by Andie McDowell) and cameraman Larry (played by Chris Elliot). Next morning he wakes up and it is still Groundhog Day. Phil is living the same day over and over and making the same mistakes. The day becomes like a video game that he plays over and over, practicing to get past all the hazards of the day. He uses one strategy after another trying to find how to get the most out of the day and how best to benefit from having gone through the day use his experiences of having already been through the day.
The script (by Danny Rubin and director Harold Ramis) starts taking on a higher meaning of just what the purpose of life. Phil can play his day for thrills, he can play it to gain self-enrichment, he can play it to get sex, he can be an altruist, or he can romance Rita. The latter is questionable since, first, Rita is a bit sappy herself, but also it is a bit of a challenge since after Phil has been so nasty way back on February 1, it seems unlikely that one day would be enough for re-educating Rita. The film's conclusion about what the best of all possible Groundhog Days is is a bit of a cheat, since it depends very heavily on previous knowledge--life is not really like a video game--and it is somewhat reminiscent of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
Ramis has an intriguing premise taken just about as far as it could be taken. It is pleasant but not particularly deep. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Mark R. Leeper att!mtgzfs3!leeper firstname.lastname@example.org .
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