Lockdown Friday Film Club: Groundhog Day
- Kevin Harley
- 1 May 2020
The latest in our series of feelgood streaming suggestions to help see you through lockdown
Unlike Bill Murray's Phil Connors with the breakfast pastries, director Harold Ramis's surreal small-town fantasy from 1993 uses restraint to its advantage. Set in one place over one looping day – a predicament it is increasingly easy to relate to in these maddeningly restrictive times – it embraces repetition and delivers ingenious, ideas-driven answers to potentially crushing limitations. Better still, Ramis goes easy on sugary uplift, making this the romcom you can rely on for lockdown levity without gagging on the message.
With satisfying congruity between form and theme, its snarky hero also has to navigate a tight spot. Holed-up and miserable in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania after reporting on the local Groundhog Day celebrations, Murray's bitter-wind TV weatherman wakes to find himself stuck in a time loop. How he will cope, and couple with Andie MacDowell's producer Rita, fast become the problems faced by film and Phil.
Ramis and his co-writer Danny Rubin tackle Phil's crises with well-wrought simplicity. Over-developed causes and curses were whittled out during the writing phase, so that Groundhog Day could focus keenly on consequences, which it does with deceptive ease. Each step towards release is plotted with snow-light tonal assurance, from Phil's abuse of the situation (sex, booze, rodent abduction) to depression, ice-sculpting and salvation. You can read numerous subtexts into that arc – many have – but Ramis and Rubin simply honour the story while leaving interpretative options open. As with implied meanings, so with mirth: the manifold zingers are never once laboured.
That understatement extends to a note-perfect cast. MacDowell is at ease and Chris Elliott a dry delight as her cameraman Larry. Meanwhile, the lead attraction blurs star / character divisions deliciously. Although his arch-minimalist persona verged on self-caricature at the time, Murray conveys Phil's journey from cynicism to wry amusement and redemption with no wrinkles of strain. Watch it on a lockdown loop and you'll find no creases on the film, either. After 27 years, Groundhog Day's wit, invention and economical precision have barely aged a day.
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