Revisiting movies I've recently acquired
Even though I loved Groundhog Day the first time I saw it in the theaters in my youth in the early 1990's, I think I unfairly never even think of it when discussing my favorite films, perhaps because it's so simple and understated. But after my most recent viewing of the film, I have to mention that Groundhog Day is one of my favorite films. It takes a simple high concept idea and, rather than just playing it for laughs, builds a true, genuine drama into its generous deadpan comedy. Groundhog Day might not have a lot of directorial flash or powerful acting, but despite its low key nature, the excellent execution of this novel story is what makes it such lasting success.
The movie revolves around Phil (Bill Murray), an egotistical jerk of a weatherman who is yet again tasked with traveling out to Puxatawny, Pennsylvania for their annual Groundhog Day festival. Accompanied by his longtime cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott), and his kind-hearted new producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), Phil makes a bid to get out of town as soon as he's done reporting, but that's undone by a blizzard closing the roads. The next morning he wakes and it's strangely still Groundhog Day and Phil discovers that he'll be reliving the same day again and again, but nobody else realizes it.
The story's great concept, of having to relive the same day again and again, proves to be a gold mine for both comedy and drama, as Phil initially uses the lack of consequences for his actions to go wild and do whatever he wants, but it also imparts a rather sophisticated level of examination about the impact of having to live the same day over and over again. Furthermore, the conflict brought about by Phil's increasing attraction to Rita (and a great comic montage that follows) leads into some serious and meaningful character development for Phil.
And the best part is how well the film manages to pull all this off. Part of that comes from a light touch from director Harold Ramis, staying low key on the directorial side, giving weight to performance, but still giving the film a strong balance of both comedy and drama, never letting the film get too exaggerated, except in one well-derived moment of ridiculousness. Also critical to how well Groundhog Day came out is Bill Murray's performance, with fantastic comic timing, deadpan delivery, and sardonic attitude, melting away as his character ends up being changed both by his circumstance and his developing familiarity with the community of Puxatawny, as well as Rita.
I admit that there's no real moment in Groundhog Day that you can advertise as "the key moment" as the film is based on reputation. Furthermore, Ramis low-key directorial style doesn't have the kind of flash and bang that both cinephiles and casual audiences will boldly proclaim. However, Groundhog Day contains a wonderfully rich story, balanced in drama and comedy, built around a fantastic concept and brought to life by some talented performers. But even if the film isn't the kind that draws loud praise and standing ovations, in its own quiet way, Groundhog Day is perhaps the prime example of just everything that a high concept comedy can be and can amount to. And for that, it will long remain a personal favorite. 10/10.