Groundhog Day (PG)
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So, this came out in 1993. I'm sure I saw it sometime in the 90s, and I probably watched it more than once, though it's hard to be sure (if you know what I mean). I know I always liked it, but then I didn't see it again for quite a few years. I finally got it on DVD in 2017, and watched it on Groundhog Day, which is when I'm writing this review. Um... before watching it this time, I kind of thought I might rate it one heart, though a little ways into the film, I thought more likely four smileys. By the end, I was thinking one and a half hearts, and then I watched some bonus features, and finally decided on two hearts. The thing is, the movie is kind of a roller coaster. It's kind of got an existential thing going on, that sort of describes the human condition more than you expect, more than maybe the movie even has a right to claim. I don't know. It's sort of a comedy, but also there's some very real drama, and darkness. And ultimately, growth.
There's a weather man at a local TV station in Pittsburgh, Phil Connors, who's obviously cynical and world-weary, but also funny. You can tell his life isn't really going as well as he'd hoped, so you can understand his cynicism, but at the same time, he's obviously more of a jerk than he really needs to be. And this is starkly contrasted by his new producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), who's very positive. And to a lesser extent by his cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott), who I would say falls somewhere in between Phil and Rita (but closer to Rita) on the cynicism scale. Anyway, Phil, Rita, and Larry have to go to Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony. (This will be the fourth time for Phil... and incidentally, I didn't remember from my previous viewings of the movie that his name was Phil, the same as the groundhog.) Of course, Phil isn't thrilled about this assignment, because, well, I guess it's sort of symbolic of his career as a whole. It's beneath him, a puff piece, and maybe not a good omen for his hopes of being hired by a network. Meanwhile, Rita is much more enthusiastic about the story.
Well, the three of them arrive in town the day before Groundhog Day. And the next morning, Phil gets up, interacts with a few people (most notably an insurance salesman named Ned Ryerson, played by Stephen Tobolowsky), before arriving at the ceremony. He does a reasonably competent job of covering it, I'd say, and then he leaves. He's eager to get out of town, but a blizzard (which he'd predicted would pass the town by) makes that impossible. So he goes back to his B&B, and the next morning, it's once again Groundhog Day. Things happen just the same as they had the first time around, which is naturally confusing and disturbing for him. And... I must say, there are things that happen that I didn't remember. Like Phil hanging out with a couple of guys he clearly didn't respect, but who lead him to realize that in his situation, he can do anything, because there are no consequences. And that leads to his tricking at least a couple of different women into one night stands, which I also didn't remember. (It's around this point that my estimation of the movie was temporarily reduced.) But eventually, he starts concentrating on trying (and failing) to trick Rita into a one night stand... and that part I did remember, and still made me like him even less. (See Stalking for Love.)
But... well, there's no clear indication of exactly how many times he repeats the same day. Obviously we see a lot less repeats than he experiences, but I would say it must be in the hundreds, or possibly thousands. So it's understandable that it becomes practically unbearable. And he kills himself many times, in many different ways. Anyway... Phil's attitude just changes a lot over the course of the movie. And eventually he goes from just wanting to either escape his situation or use it to his advantage, to wanting to use it to help others. And he goes from just wanting to get Rita into bed, to genuinely loving her. Which is part of the reason I ultimately rated the movie higher than I expected to. Because I think... well, there's a part of me that just wants to judge people who do selfish things without regard for others. But on the other hand, the movie reminds me that people can change. It doesn't happen overnight, but we have no idea exactly how much time Phil spent reliving this one day. So when we think that he may have been stuck there fore months or years, it becomes more believable that he'd really start to care about other people, altruistically. And not just Rita, but... well, pretty much everyone. So, what I mean is... it's reasonable to dislike who Phil was and to like who he becomes. The part of me that just wants people to be either one thing or another isn't really a fair assessment of what it means to be human, you know? And that is what made me bump up my rating at least half a point. The recognition that people are complicated. Like, really complicated. Sometimes people suck. But that doesn't have to define them forever. And portraying that reality should obviously take precedence over my personal comfort zone.
Anyway... I always sort of thought that Phil just had to get things right in order to break out of the time loop. But now I'm really not sure. Yes, he does eventually break free, and move on to February 3. And that does happen after he'd become a better person. But I do think he'd become better before the last time around, and I'm not sure it's even possible for anyone to ever get anything exactly right. But of course, the movie had to end at some point. And I think it picked about as good a point as could be hoped for. (And it kind of makes me wish a hell of a lot of people would be forced to endure a similar phenomenon, though I'm sure many of them would do far worse things than Phil ever did.) In any event, the movie is really funny, and really sad, and really inspiring, and really a lot of things. I still can't call it one of my favorite movies ever, but... in some ways I'm sure it's better than some of my favorite movies. (And in some ways it's probably not as good as some movies I like less than this, but... damn, I need to stop overthinking every bloody thing.)
Oh, and there was one line in the movie that I had forgotten about, but I think I would have seen it coming even if I'd never seen the movie before. Something one of the guys Phil hangs out with says in response to his description of what was happening to him. I won't spoil it, but I do think it was an excellent point, very relatable, and also kind of gives the whole movie another level on which to be appreciated.