Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Groundhog Day - Murray, Ramis (Movie)

The movie is great,
the cover leaves something to be desired.
Note: This review is primarily for those who have seen the movie, which I'm guessing is pretty much everyone reading it.  If you haven't seen it, you can just run along now.

What could be more fitting the week before Groundhog Day than to review Groundhog Day?  Obviously: nothing.  What is it about Groundhog Day that is so much fun?  It is one of those rare movies that still has something to offer after the first few views.  The story has a classic quality to it, somewhere in the same neighborhood as A Christmas Carol.  We get to watch the transformation of the character from the protagonists' point-of-view, all the while reflecting upon how we might be changed by such a magical event, or what we might do differently.  Some of the goofier aspects of what one could do in this situation are explored thoroughly, but not so much as to obscure the heart of the story, the restructuring of Phil's life.  I have felt for a long time that the moral of the story is that you don't need some crazy event like Phil to become a better person--for a long time as the days play out he changes very little--but that we have the choice to become better whenever we choose.  After all, at the end of the story it really only took him one day (pause for scattered laughter).

So, the story is good, but there's more that makes this truly great.  The following is an interesting exercise and I hope you'll take a moment and do it well: imagine another talented comedic actor in Bill Murray's role.  You can choose Robin Williams, Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Will Ferell, whoever.  Imagine your favorite scenes from the movie with the exact same dialogue and with all the same supporting actors.  I'll give you a moment to do this...strange, right?  It's not just the script or the story that has immortalized this film, it's Murray.  Patrick Stewart is to TNG and Murray is to GHD.  He elevates this script.  He elevates the other actors.  I've never seen another actor who can act so tired and disinterested with as much energy as Bill Murray.

"So he can tell us how much more winter we can expect."
There are a lot of other aspects I could address, but the last thing I'm going to discuss here is the pacing and ordering of the film.  Originally, the screen writer had this presented as a much more sci-fi piece; it's funny, but before learning this I never even realized that there was an aspect of sci-fi in the story.  He had the movie begin on one of the many mornings after Phil had started his revolutions, with the audience slowly coming to an understanding of what was happening.  I imagine that version of the script was a lot of fun it its own way, but it would have sacrificed something much more important than fun, namely: real heart.  If I had been the screen writer I think I would have really struggled with changing it once asked by the director, but how much more gratifying and lasting is the story if we start with the Phil from before.  We see his potential as a quality person even behind his sarcasm and his selfishness, and we want to witness that growth.

I guess what I'm saying about this movie is that it did what it did right.  There are a lot of ways in which it could have been changed--and it still could have been a fine movie--but as it stands it is better than fine, it is great.

-MA 1.29.13

PS.  The guy who takes the groundhog out of its cage, the one who has the great "seer of seers" line is Murray's older brother, who also plays the Flying Dutchman on Spongebob.  Just thought you might want to know!


  1. I like how the scenery in the background of the cover has no snow whatsoever. It looks like the movie is happening in June, or it's about a Groundhog day in Columbia.