Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day ★★★★½

Even though I have two billion films (give or take) on my watchlist, tonight I decided to re-watch (yet again), and re-review, Groundhog Day. If only there were some kind of fitting metaphor for this ceaseless repetition... no, can't think of one.

Watching Groundhog Day with a review in mind was a whole new experience for me - it forced me to really examine what it is about this film that's so insanely lovable, and to look for flaws, which I'd never normally do.

For the first time, I saw parallels with one of my all-time favourites, When Harry Met Sally. For me, that film is all about change - the changes we go through as we age, how we can grow towards each other or apart, how we learn from our mistakes. In Groundhog Day, it's just Phil who's changing - and, although Phil sees it differently, in a way it's Rita (Andie MacDowell) who's trapped in time. She never changes, never improves herself or learns anything - she's held up as an already intelligent, self-aware, well-rounded person from the start, something Phil has to aspire towards.

The movie addresses all the things we have to tackle to grow up - it's a coming-of-age story for adults. Phil confronts love and death, develops respect and empathy for his fellow man and woman, brings culture to his life, figures out who he is and who he wants to be.

The changes he goes through are gradual and well-paced, each one forming a new layer to Phil's personality and humanity. You could write a thesis on each one - why does he still wake up on Groundhog Day after this change? Why after this one? And the next one? Why does the repetition end when it does?

If I were to judge Groundhog Day very harshly indeed, I'd level two criticisms at it. Firstly (and this was probably intentional), there is no light and shade to Rita - she's seen as perfect throughout, and it would be nice if Phil could notice her imperfections and come to terms with them as part of his "journey". She drinks to world peace, for crying out loud.

Also, the sequence with the dying homeless man seems unfinished - there's no conclusion to it, no pay-off, we simply never see him again. It feels like something important was edited out.

Speaking of editing, I recently read a Harold Ramis interview where he was asked why Phil got stuck in Groundhog Day in the first place, and he'd replied that there was originally an explanatory scene (about some gypsy curse or other) but it was cut. I'm glad. The whys and wherefores don't matter, and the absence of logic leaves it as a modern fable, a story that tells us how to live our lives without feeling preachy or evangelistic, and that's because the writing is subtle and exceptional. There's never a "well hey, I sure regret punching that man in the face" moment.

And it gets better and better the more you watch it. In fact I might watch it again tomorrow, assuming tomorrow happens.

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