Groundhog Day – The Movie and It’s Legacy

With tomorrow’s impending holiday, I thought it would be good to revisit the movie it inspired, Harold Ramis’ 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. I realized that the movie came out about 18 years ago so there are likely some people who have never seen it.

The Plot

For those that haven’t, the movie is about a weatherman from Pittsburgh (played by Murray) who is assigned to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the “world’s oldest groundhog festival.” Phil Connors (Murray) is a sarcastic “prima donna” who feels that the assignment is beneath him and tries to be as big of a jerk as possible throughout the entire process. A blizzard on the way home traps them in Punxsutawney. When Connors awakes the next morning he finds that it is again Groundhog Day. And this cycle continues for the remainder of the movie.

Legacy

One of the reasons I think this movie is significant is because looking back it has an interesting legacy. It’s very reminiscent of an 80s comedy, something along the lines of Ghostbusters, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, etc. It might be the last of that type of movie. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was released the following year and ushered in a new genre of comedy, the over-the-top physical comedy with at least one really stupid character. Movies like Billy Madison and Tommy Boy followed and powered the genre until 1998’s There’s Something About Mary led the trend of raunchier comedies that included things like American Pie and Road Trip. And now the Judd Apatow movies, which are basically their own genre seem to rule the comedy spectrum. Groundhog Day essentially represents the end of an era of a simpler time for comedies where at the time sexual jokes or disgusting sequences weren’t the norm.

Groundhog Day is one of only five movies to make AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list released in 2000. It was ranked 34th on the list, with the aforementioned There’s Something About Mary the only 90s comedy ahead of it at 27th. Another AFI list Top 10 Fantasy Movies of All-Time, released in 2008, had it ranked 8th. IMDB’s raters have it rated relatively high as well.

Does It Still Hold Up?

It still manages to hold up pretty well even 18 years later. There aren’t really any, from what I remember, references to anything contextual of the times. The iconic alarm clock song, Sonny & Cher’s I Got You, Babe was an oldie then. Of course the hairstyles and clothes look dated, but there aren’t plot holes that would necessarily be solved by the internet and/or cell phones like so many other pieces of 90s pop culture1. The theme, which is similar to a reverse of It’s a Wonderful Life, tries to team Murray to be a better person and give back rather than just take.

Outside of Murray, the cast if probably mostly unrecognizable to most of current and recent generations. Andie McDowell is more recognizable from hair product commercials these days than movies. Chris Elliot is a “that guy” from movies and TV. Stephen Tobolowsky is another “that guy” with a bit of a cult following. Apparently he is Sandy Ryerson on Glee2. The fact that the cast would unrecognizable to people under the age of 25 actually probably helps the shelf life of this movie, since these aren’t actors people will know/remember from something else.

Greatest Comedy of the 90s

When it’s all said and done Groundhog Day might be the best comedy of the 1990s. I know there are plenty of comedies from the 90s that people love, especially people my age. But the re-watchability of this movie is what makes it so great. It’s not on all that often, but when it is you can always turn it on and get a laugh. Add to it that Murray is a comedy movie icon. He is likely still a big enough name to get people to ask for more info about a movie. And this was quite possibly his last great comedy. Although he would have roles in cult classics Kingpin, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, his best post-Groundhog Day roles were likely in Lost in Translation and the underrated Broken Flowers3, the “Best of Bill Murrary Comedies” would likely end with Groundhog Day

You can argue for your favorite movie all you want. But I don’t think there is another movie from the 90s that is loved by as many people as Groundhog Day. It put the “holiday” on the map and continues, 18 years later, to be a part of pop culture.

  1. For best examples, see almost an episode of Seinfeld []
  2. Although I have no idea who that is because I don’t watch the show []
  3. FYI, I haven’t seen Get Low yet so he maybe very good in that as well []