Monday, January 19, 2015
CANON OF FILM: "GROUNDHOG DAY"
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
Director: Harold Ramis
Screenplay: Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis based on the story by Danny Rubin
We always tend to consider dramas as great films more quickly and more urgently than comedies, but I was wondering what if “Groundhog Day” had been a drama. That’s not that unusual, it’s been done as a drama multiple times, since, most recently with Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow”, but I mean, would it have had the long-lasting impact and be remembered as a seminal film it is. There’s been good and bad attempts at copying the formula from the movie, a character finding himself stuck in a time loop as he continues to relive the same day over and over again while everybody else still thinks they’re going through it for the first time, but I suspect that because this was a comedy, that whenever the idea gets revived, it becomes a little less prevalent. Similar to how when “Dr. Strangelove…” got released before “Fail-Safe” and suddenly the parody of the film comes out before the movie they were parodying. I don’t know if that’s the case of not, and I didn’t think when this film came out I’d eventually consider it a masterpiece either, but time has proven many people wrong on that, and this film will play like the similarly-themed “It’s a Wonderful Life,” forever.
“Groundhog Day” is a great comedy, and a seminal film. Does it matter that it became so seminal and new an idea that you can’t repeat it without people thinking about the original film anymore. Most great movies can’t make that claim. The story was by Danny Rubin, working with the great Harold Ramis, and the movie is fairly simple, yet ingenious. Our hero is a weatherman (Bill Murray) who ends up reliving the same day over and over again. How they decided on picking Groundhog Day for the day, I don’t know, but it’s quite inspired actually. Murray’s performance is so brilliant, you may not realize just how subtle it is, because it only seems that he changes the situation around him and not himself personally but slowly but surely, him reliving the same moments over and over again eventually lead him to, maybe a little too literally, self-discovery. Recently, many religious scholars have noted “Groundhog Day”, for these spiritual themes, which, I guess you can find in there if you want. Although that’s a little considering one the funniest moments is how he continually amuses himself by finding new creative ways to kill himself each day, including one memorable one that constitutes kidnapping the groundhog, and you don’t see too many religions advocating suicide, (Or kidnapping groundhogs for that matter). There’s also critical performance by Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott as Phil’s defeated producer and cameraman who put up with the onscreen talent, but mostly look at this like a job, in particular for MacDowell as they have to be repeating the same events, but also have to be believable, reacting to this newly, continuously transforming Phil, who spends his days, or is it day,- anyway, eventually, he begins using the day to improve himself, each time.
Still though, this is arguably the greatest example of all of Bill Murray’s talents. Running through every possible emotion is one thing, which he more than has to do with this most roles, but nobody can walk into our lives and convincingly seem like a prick quite like him. He’s not over-the-top, he’s not obnoxious, he just is, and while you don’t think of this performance as a study of understatement that his later work has been known for, but this actually shows how he realizes exactly how subtle he needs to be, and not overdo anything. There’s so many ways this performance can go wrong, and ruin the movie, and yet because it’s Bill Murray, it doesn’t. Director Harold Ramis did his best work with Bill Murray, he supposedly considered other names for this film, but I can’t imagine he would go through with the film without Murray though. It’s arguably Ramis’s best film, it’s arguably Murray’s greatest achievement, and “Groundhog Day”, I mean, it’s an adjective now. It sneaks up on you, and you don’t realize it’s brilliance right away, but you can really look back on it, not even as a comedy, but just as a film- I think of Judd Apatow for instance, and this improv style of, taking the scenes, and then letting gifted actors, reshoot and reshoot, coming up with funnier lines and behaviors each time out; that really began with Harold Ramis, and you basically see the entire technique here. Do it this way, say something else, react this way, in many ways, the films like a look and treat at the process of the future of big budget Hollywood comedies.
No wonder everybody’s trying to remake "Groundhog Day" again; they’re all already just directing like Harold Ramis to begin with.