Plot: Phil Conners (Bill Murray) is a big time weatherman on a small time channel, just waiting for his chance at network fame. One of the things he hates about his nickel and dime job is his yearly trip to Gobbler’s Knob to see the legendary groundhog predict the weather. While in the small town, he runs into an old high school acquaintance he hates, and has problems with his producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman (Chris Elliot). After a huge blizzard, which he told his viewers was not coming, the town is buried, and Phil is stranded there. When he wakes up however, he realizes he is reliving the last day, and relives it over and over again. He tries to kill himself, seduces a woman, and causes all kinds of problems, but can’t seem to break the cycle. Can Phil uncover the key to kicking time back into gear or is he stuck in this rut forever?
Entertainment Value: This is a comedy classic, with one of Bill Murray’s funniest performances, a great balance of humor and heart, and an endless parade of quotable dialogue to revel in. The narrative is lean and effective, leaving most of the exposition up to your imagination, which allows the brightest lights of the story to shine through and that was a wise choice. Phil’s chance at redemption is reason enough for the cycle to make sense, I think trying to explain further than that would just bog down the movie and dampen the good times. There is some schmaltz of course, especially toward the finale, but it isn’t too over the top and in truth, it is earned through the narrative and doesn’t feel out of place in the least. Plus Murray can do redeemed characters like this with immense skill, so a little cloying sentiment isn’t a concern. The repetition is also handled well, as the scenes have a slightly slant each time and especially as Phil learns to manipulate the cycle, the scenes can be quite hilarious. Murray’s performance is one of the main draws, but to me the dialogue is often the real star, with a constant flow of great lines that stick in your brain long after the credits roll. You have to give some credit to the cast of course, but the script is razor sharp and I love so many of the exchanges in this one. I hold Groundhog Day as one of the top tier comedies of the 90s, so for anyone who likes to laugh, this is a must for your collection.
Bill Murray has what seems like an endless resume of iconic roles, but his turn as Phil in Groundhog Day is one of his true signature roles. He can play these asshole with a heart of gold roles like few others can, making Phil likable even in his lowest moments, which is no small feat. The movie takes some dark turns, but Murray keeps the humor active, even when Phil wishes for death, just for the cycle to end. The redemption arc is one that can be tough to pull off, even with good elements in place, but Murray is able to nail it, as usual. I also love his exchanges with his costars, as he has memorable encounters with even the smallest of roles. His scene with Michael Shannon is just a few lines, but even those kind of minor moments shine with humor. Andie MacDowell is good as a down to earth romantic interest, while Chris Elliott is fun in a small, but important role that is more grounded than his usual work. The cast also includes Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, and even director Harold Ramis in a small part.