Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Groundhog Day (1993)

     Groundhog Day (1993) [D: Harold Ramis. Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell] Beware: If you don’t get it right the first time, you may be condemned to do it over until you do.
     That’s what happens to Bill Collins, and egotistical, mean-spirited TV announcer, who gets stuck in a time-loop, and has to relive Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney over and over again. He wakes up each February 2nd at 6:00am, and remembers what the previous run-throughs were. He learns a lot of facts, finds out that he can use what he learns to change the new version of Groundhog Day. Eventually he comes to an answer to the most fundamental question: What makes life worth living? He tries hedonism; self-gratification; suicide; revenge; and other self-centred principles and experiments.
     Then he discovers gratuitous kindness and simple acceptance of the gift of joy. He catches a boy falling out of a tree, knowing the boy will never thank him, for Bill must relive that action when he relives February 2nd while the boy (presumably) continues on to the next day. He helps an old drunk, but cannot prevent the old drunk’s death, only only improve the quality of his life before he dies. He accepts that the brief moment of love with his producer is the happiest time he will ever have, because the next run-through will be different. But the spell is broken, and he wakes with her beside him on the day after Groundhog Day.
     I don’t think it’s possible to give a good impression of the flavour and charm of this movie. One factor in making the movie believable is Murray’s ability to play an ordinary, not very bright, not very nice, vain, too self-centred fellow who slowly becomes the best he could be. Another is the script, in which the stages of his experimentation, resignation, and acceptance are nicely captured in vignettes. Another is the way the other people react to Bill in every rerun of February 2nd; both the script and the acting make it clear that for them, this is a new and different Bill, one they have never seen before.
     The narrative pace and rhythm alternately slowing down and speeding up also helps. So does the ever-so-ordinary setting, a small town photographed so as to make it as ordinary as possible, with no attempt to glamourise it, no clever camera angles to divert our attention from the characters. The sound track includes music, but it never intrudes. Every character gets enough screen time and dialogue that we sense there is more there than we are given. And the utter absence of any distracting waffle about how or why Bill became stuck in the time loop lets us focus on its effects on him, and should remind us that we should never let mere factuality get in the way of truth.
     A great movie. It was one of Jon’s favourites. ****

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