“Strike up the music, the band has begun,
The Pennsylvania Polka.
Pick out your partner and join in the fun,
The Pennsylvania Polka.”
Well, it’s Groundhog Day … again … and you know what that means. It’s time to dust off your copy of the beloved classic Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott. However, this year marks the special 25th anniversary of Harold Ramis’ profound masterpiece. I think this is one of the rare films that actually manages to get better and better as time marches on, which is ironic when you consider its subject matter.
When Groundhog Day was released in mid-February of 1993, I was on the cusp of my 11th birthday. I remember my aunt, who was really more like a cool, older sister, taking me to see it in the theater. I was already a big fan of Bill Murray thanks to Ghostbusters, Scrooged, old reruns of SNL and the fact that my family had also rented the hilarious What About Bob? the year before. What I remember best about the experience is laughing so hard that I cried. I also recall being instantly mesmerized by the characters and the story’s concept – imagine being forced to repeat the same day over and over until you finally got it right. It blew my mind, for I’d never seen anything quite like it before!
Maybe I was fairly young and impressionable but even I could see this was a very special film, the likes of which doesn’t come around every day. Although the film’s director, Harold Ramis, and star Bill Murray had collaborated many times throughout the ‘80s, I think this is their combined best effort. They struck a rare kind of movie-going magic in that they created something so timeless that’s as poignant and as enigmatic as it is humorous. Danny Rubin’s screenplay is so good that you can watch this film repeatedly and quote it line for line and still find something new to enjoy each time. I’ve also read several articles over the years analyzing the film from various religious and mystical perspectives. What is it about this fantasy/comedy that still captivates us 25 years later?
A lot of the answer to that lies within Murray’s brilliant performance itself. In the character of Phil Connors, he makes this transformation from a detached, egotistical person concerned only with himself to one who’s well-rounded with a renewed appreciation for the life and humanity teeming around him. Every day, Phil wakes up and it’s February 2, Groundhog Day. He’s in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the pomp and circumstance associated with the holiday because he’s a TV weatherman/anchor who has covered this same story several years running. He hates covering it – he describes the people as “hicks” and “morons” and the groundhog as a “rat” – this is not at all what he envisioned for his career. After all, he’s “the talent.”
Phil’s in a sort of purgatory he’s fashioned for himself. He must learn to transcend above all the bullshit that doesn’t really matter (his ego, his career, whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow) and become a better version of himself if he’s ever to break free from the monotony. If given the opportunity to relive the same day, I’d like to think most of us would end up becoming better versions of ourselves because time would suddenly become meaningless. We could do literally whatever we wanted, as hunger, poverty, death, plague, pestilence, fear and uncertainty would all be non-points in our existence. But I also think it’d take a while for most of us to get to that place of self-discovery that we can actually ice sculpt or play the piano. Like Phil, we’d probably go through various stages of denial, depression, despair, anger and futility before we finally reached acceptance and understanding.
Groundhog Day has a staying power that makes it uniquely relevant and thought-provoking no matter how many times it’s viewed. As an adult, I can relate to the film a little more each time that I watch it. At one point or another, don’t we all end up feeling a little bit like Phil, trapped in our own fruitless careers and the rut of our daily routines that we slave ourselves to? While we’re not reliving the same day over and over again as he’s forced to do in the film, sometimes it certainly feels like it. And how many of us sure as heckfire get approached by random, unwanted trolls from our past whenever we log into Facebook, go out for a shopping excursion or take a leisurely stroll down the street?
But the main crux that’s captivated me for as long as I can remember is the development of the love story between Phil and his boss Rita (MacDowell). I love watching it enfold around them every time. I love watching her slap him across the face and tell him how much of a jerk he is, only to eventually realize that he’s able to truly see her in a way that she’s never been seen before. We all deserve someone who tells us how we’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person they’ve ever met and how we look just like an angel when we stand in the snow. And the music choices in the film are equally perfect – I cannot listen to Ray Charles’ version of “You Don’t Know Me” without thinking of Groundhog Day. I was very fortunate to find the soundtrack to add to my collection a couple of years ago.
In honor of the film’s silver anniversary, Sony Pictures Entertainment plans to screen the restored 4K version of the movie this February in select theaters. It’s an exciting time to be alive, if you take the time to appreciate life that is. Chances of my watching it again on Groundhog Day are 100% percent.