Groundhog Day After Dark Review
By Bret Dorman
I don’t do this as much anymore, but for a period of time I would fall asleep watching movies. Every night I would plug in the same movie over and over and over and become so familiar with it while drifting off that even looking at the DVD case would make me yawn. The though process was multi-pronged:
1) I thought maybe having the movie play while I was asleep might subliminally engrain it into my brain. To better understand how or why certain movies work, its good to know them inside and out, consciously and subconsciously.
2) Even though I would usually fall asleep in the first 10-20 minutes I would occasionally wake up at random times throughout and watch a scene or two. Sometimes when watching a movie from start to finish, by the end you’re just on cruise control, even if you like or love the movie. Watching a scene out of order may help you see it with “fresh eyes” while still being familiar with the mindset of the movie, letting you see some tiny detail you may have overlooked every other viewing.
3) For some odd reason I just LOVE waking up to a DVD menu on a constant loop. The music, sound effects, and occasional dialogue bit are both strangely reassuring to half-wake up to and hypnotically comforting to fall back asleep during.
Of course the ultimate point of all this was to try and reach a zen state of movie watching. In a way, you could almost say the main character of Groundhog Day is doing the same. He is watching and learning about his world to the point where he reaches a level of bliss unlike anything he has ever experienced before.The Story: Weatherman/Jerk Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is inexplicably forced to relive the same day over and over. He uses this opportunity to do various things, including but not limited to getting laid, learning about small-towns-folk, taking piano lessons, committing suicide, and trying to win the heart of his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell). Also, you should watch that first step, its a doozie.
I’m sure most people reading this are familiar with the fact that the filmmakers of Groundhog Day decided to not show a reason (a spell from a disgruntled ex) for Phil Connor’s mysterious problem. Like with the shark in Jaws not working, forcing its filmmakers to work around it, to not even address the strange circumstance has become one of the biggest reasons why people love the movie. Really, all you need is the title, Groundhog Day, and perhaps a good trailer/plot description for people to stumble upon before hand. As the movie progresses, we can put together what is happening. Rude dude wakes up in a town he hates and is forced to relive the bane of his existence, reporting on a “magical” weather predicting rodent who shares his name. Phil goes through many ranges of emotions and approaches to the day before ultimately learning his lesson about what he REALLY wants from life and is able to move on.Ultimately its the films language that speaks for itself. By creating that rhythm of the alarm clocking flipping to 6:00, “I Got You Babe”, then the annoying radio morning DJs we can immediately understand something is wrong. Even though Phil has his doubts after the first time this happens, assuming its all some sick practical joke, he devises a clear cut way to test out his predicament. He breaks the pencil. In that moment when he wakes up the next morning to a unbroken pencil, he and the audience realize exactly the potential for mischievous comedy mayhem, but also the subtle terror in what no consequences really means.
As the movie moves into Groundhog Day… again and again, the problem of pacing becomes clear. I like the way Phil deals with everyday strangers and small talk at first and especially how he deals with them in a second or third time, immediately and sarcastically adapting to his situation by changing his chance of departure from 100% to 80% (75-80%). But to show every step of every day would get way too tedious. Instead, writer Danny Rubin establishes a couple of major frameworks and storylines for the day, then is able to jump around and play in them as needed. By the end of the movie you truly get the sense that Phil has spent his uncountable number of days exploring every nook and cranny of Punxsutawney.Of course, one of the more humorous and satisfying side stories is the Ned Ryerson character’s intrusions into Phil’s day. Actor/Master Storyteller (The Tobolowsky Files) Stephen Tobolowsky expertly plays the annoying insurance salesman who remembers Phil from their childhood. Most of the time, Phil desperately tries to get out of these encounters, but to no luck. Even as Phil predicts Ned’s lines and life, Ned seems to spiritually be connected through the days and shrugs off Phil’s amazing memory/talents with bings and laughs. Fittingly, the one time Phil reciprocates Ned’s excitement and clinginess, Ned gets freaked out and runs away. And like with all the stories of Groundhog Day, Phil eventually learns to genuinely appreciate the small things in life, no matter how annoying or plain they are, like Ned himself. In the end, Groundhog Day is categorized as a comedy and works as one, thanks to Harold Ramis’ knack for wrangling amazing talents, goofy ideas, and cinematic short hands. By not constantly seeking a laugh and allowing the film to go to some truly dark places (attempted suicides and coming to terms with the death of others), the film becomes more relatable to real life than just an escape from it. Phil Connor uses sarcasm as a shield from actually having to care about life and Bill Murray is a perfect choice to deflect any sympathy at first, then eventually win us over. By the end of the movie, we forget that there will eventually be a tomorrow and get lost in the moment as Phil strives to make himself a better person and make the world around him a better place. The moment he reaches that zen like moment of nirvana is the moment he doesn’t dread tomorrow and that day comes.
Why You Must See It After Dark: As someone who watched movies over and over and over, sometimes once a day for a week or two straight, I can firmly endorse Groundhog Day as a movie that will get you the most mileage on multiple viewings given its déjà vu premise. Analyzing this movie as a whole for its structure, scene by scene for its comedy, or metaphorically for its Buddhist state of mind will never truly do the movie justice. Just sit back. Relax. And enjoy each moment for what it is. And I know that the midnight hour is late and that Angelika’s seats are very comfortable, but I assure you… If you fall asleep during the movie you will not wake up in your bed greeted by Sonny and Cher on your alarm clock radio. Someone will eventually come over and wake you up.