Re-Re-Re-Watching Groundhog Day

groundhog-day-poster-1

–For your information, Hairdo, there is a major network interested in me.

–That would be the Home Shopping Network.

–Thanks, Larry.

Is it me, or do you feel bad for Phil? (Human Phil, not Groundhog Phil–that’s a different conversation.) I mean, yes, he’s an asshole, but not without reason. I mean, he ought to be a nationally famous weatherman, right? He’s a first-class meteorologist with a sharp sense of humor and, um, kind of nice cheekbones?  And why shouldn’t he hate going to Punxatawney? In his own words, Punxatawney Phil is the world’s most famous weatherman. And that should be Phil’s title. Phil Connors. Weatherman extraordinaire. And not even his coworkers appreciate him. I mean, nobody even takes him seriously when he tells them about his problem.

Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.

Okay–so, he’s such a jerk that the whole movie is about him learning NOT to be a jerk. But first, we get to witness a spectacular display of his jerkiness: making a pair of drunks &%*# themselves by driving on the railroad tracks, tricking women into sleeping with him, robbing a bank, and so on. We get to see him being spectacularly insincere.

Gosh, I wish we could all live in the mountains. At high altitude. That’s where I see myself in five years.

And, of course, we get to see him get slapped a lot. Which is really funny. But then he gets suicidal. And somehow things just get funnier.

Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites! All of you!… You want a prediction? It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be gray. And it’s gonna last you the rest of your life.

It’s a very simple story. The simplest, really–man versus himself, antihero overcoming hubris, coming of age, however you might describe it–but it’s told with such humor and depth that I can watch it and watch it and watch it without tiring. Call me corny but I find Phil’s transformation inspiring. Whenever I see him change those three ladies’ tire, I mist up a little–and then, naturally, I laugh when the woman says, “He must be from the motor club!”

I remember in grad school, my work would sometimes be criticized for being “too funny,” as if humor detracted from the value of a literary work. While I’m sure some of my jokes flopped and I certainly edited a few out, I always felt better when one of my professors would say that all good fiction was funny. Not always overtly, and not to everyone. But as with visual art, storytelling needs highlights and lowlights. The best work inspires laughter and tears. I’m not saying that Groundhog Day is the best work. Or the best movie. Or the best comedy. You might even call it heavy-handed, but all that learning to be a good person stuff is balanced with laughter, and as with every Bill Murray movie (every one I can think of–and every Harold Ramis movie for that matter) the film ends with a little wink and a smile at itself–

Let’s live here. We’ll rent at first.

Roll the credits. Play the music. Now let’s watch it again.

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