“Phil? Phil Connors? I thought that was you!”
Remember that line from the romantic fantasy “Groundhog Day”?
“Needlenose” Ned Ryerson, the abrasive insurance salesman, accosts Bill Murray’s character, the bumptious Pittsburgh weatherman, who’s stuck in a time warp. Avoiding Ryerson, Phil steps into a mud puddle again and again on his way to cover the appearance of the weather-predicting marmot, Punxsutawney Phil.
“Groundhog Day,” timelier than ever this Feb. 2, never gets old for me. I know every sight gag and bit of dialogue by heart in the 1993 film. I can even predict when the luminous Andie MacDowell, who plays TV producer Rita, is winding up to wallop Murray across the kisser again.
It’s no coincidence that Connors shares his first name with the trapped groundhog, which lures hordes to “Gobbler’s Knob” each year. If Phil casts a shadow, tradition holds, he’ll return to hibernation and there’ll be six more weeks of winter.
I love the special way the movie celebrates winter’s midpoint and how Cupid uses frigid weather to spark hot romance. I also appreciate the deft use of location filming (in tiny Woodstock, Ill., better suited for filming than Punxsutawney, Pa., where the town square is removed from the downtown) and the wonderful cast of supporting characters. Chris Elliott is perfect as the wise-cracking cameraman; Murray’s real-life brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, is great as Buster, the tophat-wearing groundhog keeper.
Now, thanks to a special DVD edition of the Columbia Pictures release, I can savor director Harold Ramis’ audio commentary. Ramis, who co-wrote the screenplay, the theme song and even appears briefly as a neurologist, walks the viewer through every scene, explaining that the movie’s miracle is that as Connors becomes a nicer person, he escapes his time prison and gets the girl (MacDowell).
Buddhists, Jesuits, Christians and Hasidic Jews all have embraced the movie’s philosophy: Phil could have had everlasting life on earth reliving the same day as a schmuck, but when he softens his heart, he gains spiritual benefits not attainable before.
“People can change,” Ramis comments, “and when you do change, you get life’s rewards.”
By the movie’s end, Phil has embraced Ryerson, is kinder to the woman who runs the bed and breakfast where’s he lodging and even hands money to the homeless man on the street whom he’d previously ignored.
What’s your favorite scene? Mine might be the final one, when Rita and Phil awake in bed, fully clothed, to a town newly cloaked in snow. Rita looks childlike, and Phil, so content, realizing his greatest gift: to be finite again. Time is moving on.
If you think the two look like they haven’t made love yet, you’re right. The cast and crew voted not to have the screen couple become intimate. Hence, the film’s special quality remains intact.
Other memorable scenes range from farce to sheer magic. Remember the one in which “the bad Phil,” accompanied by a pair of bowling-alley cronies, races a red convertible over a bumpy railroad track while fleeing the cops? Or when “the good Phil,” finally able to predict the future, catches a boy as he tumbles from a tree? That’s movie-making at its most diverse.
And, how about that soundtrack music? It includes Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me,” sung as Rita and Phil dance outside during a snowfall, and Nat King Cole oozing “Almost Like Being in Love” over the closing credits. Sonny and Cher croon “I Got You Babe” precisely at 6 a.m. on Phil’s bedside clock radio. Later, Phil tickles the ivories. (Murray actually performs in one scene, but most of his other piano playing is dubbed.)
I hope “Groundhog Day” is never remade as a sequel. You can’t reheat a souffl?, and this one is the most delectable of them all.
Dick Shaw can be reached at 990-8204 and firstname.lastname@example.org.