"Groundhog Day," Harold Ramis, Film Review
It's often interesting to look at how films or novels are categorized for genre as this can sometimes give us ideas about how to describe our own work in genre terms. Groundhog Day is listed as Comedy, Fantasy and Romance.
A lot of time, money and effort have gone into making this film and the end result is slick and well constructed, with memorable characters and themes that resonate further than those from the average Hollywood film.
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Bill Murray's character, Phil, is the most fully described. His producer in the film and intended love interest, Rita, is a bit wet – a kind of compliant man fantasy, although one who does a lot of face slapping. Phil collects her attributes one by one, but they (French poetry, rocky road ice cream, toasting to world peace) seem more like a writer's list against a made-up character than the attributes of a real person. Chris Elliott, who plays the cameraman Larry, is a kind of comic foil to Phil but not very developed. A long way into the film when the partly reformed Phil asks Larry whether he has kids, the camera doesn't hang around for the answer. Larry makes dismal attempts to chat up women, and is sold at a slave auction to an old lady for 25 cents. Earlier, he makes eye contact with a waiter who we've been told is gay. All in all, Larry seems to be an avatar for the script writer, with Murray playing the author as fantasy.
Phil's cynicism and quick wit drives the film. And there is comedy from how painfully slowly his seduction of Rita progresses. Almost every line in his sequence requires a new day and a new adjustment. The two of them are so comically mismatched at the beginning that his (initially cynical) attempts to seduce her by 'being' her perfect man eventually transform him by making him that different and better man in reality. Or at least that's what we're asked to stomach.
It's clear that a lot of repeated days have passed. Phil learns the piano and gets to know every member of the village.
There's great casting in the film. Eg the town officials listening to the groundhog to hear what he is telling them.
And the groundhog ritual itself works well as a symbol for the difference between small town and city American life and ultimately for American values as they really count.
Sentimentality lurks in this film but it is undercut by making it clear that Phil has tried every other option apart from true love – money, food, drink, women, and even suicide by numerous methods.
Only good deeds and the love of a good woman ultimately provide him with the satisfaction he wants.
The endless repetition, endless refinement and building of knowledge works well as a metaphor for man's search through a normal lifetime for the meaning of life.
It's just that you need ten thousand goes at a single day to get it right.
Personal Score: 7/10
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.