As our own radio alarm clock ticks over to 2018, with its digital display and the latest tune from an interchangeable pop star blaring from the speakers, it’s worth taking stock of the comedy landscape. A baron wasteland full of recycled formula and man-child shtick, in which admittedly there have been genre-defining breakouts, such as The
In order to find some genuine laughs, here at HeyUGuys we’re turning back the clock to 1993, setting our alarm for 6:00am, and getting ready to be driven to breaking point by Sonny & Cher with comedy masterpiece Groundhog Day, which is released on 4K Ultra HD today. Altogether now, “They say we’re young and we don’t know, we won’t find out until we grow”.
The Original Anchorman
Way before Rob Burgundy was synonymous with regional news broadcasts, Bill Murray’s Phil Connors was the original in-camera trailblazer. A pre-cursor to the Larry David misanthropic school of verbalizing that which society deemed unacceptable, Connors is peak Bill Murray. The perfect crescendo to an evolution of characters that had manifested in Ghostbusters Peter Venkman, Frank Cross in Scrooged, and Bob Wiley from What About Bob? Phil Connors is the perfect sad-sack vessel, beat down by life, completely self-aware, to be thrown into a personal Dante style descent into the hell that awaits in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Our enjoyment comes from watching him endure the twee bandstand music, roll call of enthusiastic characters, and the cruel minutia of life that he has to wait twenty-four hours to course-correct. Whether that’s the facial expression of having to endure a “sweet vermouth, rocks, with a twist”, as one of the countless number of loops involved in seducing Andie MacDowell’s Rita, or the tedium of the monologue he has to deliver about the titular celebrations, none of it would work half as well if it wasn’t Bill Murray who was on the receiving end.
Moments Worth Repeating
While Murray might not be enjoying hearing “okay campers, rise and shine and don’t forget your booties, ‘cause it’s coooooooold out there today”, as an audience there are so many cruel laughs to be had at his expense.
None more so than during his attempts to woo Andie MacDowell’s butter-wouldn’t-melt producer; learning French poetry, pretending to be a man who loves his mother, or mastering ice sculpture. It’s an underhanded plan that’s going swimmingly until old father time pushes the reset button on his perfect day, and any further attempts to replicate the romance results in a hilarious montage of Murray getting slapped. Deservedly so.
What adds to his exasperation is the fact you never know how long Phil has been planning the day. The absence of any explanation as to why he is suffering, and for how many years he has been stuck in this February 2nd cycle, only makes his setbacks even more painfully hilarious.
It’s a Wonderful Day
Groundhog Day might be seeped in the sardonic wit and brutal honesty of its central character, but the film has an undeniable Capraesque quality to it. In the same way that It’s a Wonderful Life is timeless, the late Harold Ramis created something equally uplifting and rewarding with his high-concept comedy.
As such Groundhog Day wasn’t afraid to go to dark places in order to accentuate the feel-good nature of final reel redemption, ensuring that amongst Ned Ryerson’s “watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy” gags, there were some real weighty dramatic beats.
There’s a vignette towards the end in which Phil, whilst using his situation to do some good, repeatedly attempts to save the life of a homeless man. It’s a fruitless venture that’s punctuated by a nurse telling him “sometimes people just die”. Now this might seem a strange angle to focus on in celebrating a classic comedy, but by grounding Phil’s situation like that, it adds so many layers to his character.
The redemption he seeks is no longer self-serving wish fulfillment 101, there’s a real emotional drive behind his desire to do good, and as such we root for him. When was the last time you could say that about the protagonist in a comedy? When was the last time you were that invested in someone you’d spent ninety minutes belly laughing at? You could live the same day over-and-over again and not come up with an example as great as Groundhog Day.
It’s a movie about not having forever, which will last even longer than that.