remember when?

20 Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of Groundhog Day

Photo: Sony

This February marks the twentieth anniversary of Groundhog Day — the Bill Murray film about living the same day over and over again. This February marks the twentieth anniversary of Groundhog Day — the Bill Murray film about living the same day over and over again. Sorry. That’s the last time I do that, promise. Here are twenty thoughts, small and large, personal and not, on the occasion.

1. When Groundhog Day was released in 1993, pretty much everyone loved it. Roger Ebert gave it three stars and said that while it was clearly a comedy, “There’s an underlying dynamic that is a little more thoughtful.” The New York Times praised it for being “witty,” and the Washington Post called it “wildly funny.”

2. If you’re a fan of Murray and Harold Ramis (who worked together most famously on Ghostbusters, among other films), Groundhog Day is bittersweet, as this marked the beginning of their estrangement. Ramis claimed that Murray acted irrationally and immaturely during the shoot (to be fair, Murray’s marriage was rumored to be on the rocks). Years later, Ramis told The New Yorker, “What I’d want to say to him is just what we tell our children: ‘You don’t have to throw tantrums to get what you want. Just say what you want.’” Obviously, there are two sides to every story, but regardless of what happened, it’s a shame these two no longer work together.

3. I’m from Pittsburgh, and I’m almost positive that when the trio is leaving the city for Punxsutawney, they are headed the wrong way. Punxsutawney is east of Pittsburgh, but they look to be traveling west.

4. Phil Connors (Murray) plays a weatherman who is cynical, self-centered, and bored with his career, which is exactly how I imagine most meteorologists feel. No one likes them because they have the easiest job ever created. Meteorologists simply look at some radars and proudly proclaim that there’s a 20 percent chance of something. If they’re wrong — as they often are — they just shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s the weather! It’s unpredictable!”

5. How Connors deals with his Groundhog Day strikes me as fairly realistic. I like that Ramis has Connors delve into his evil side when he first realizes there won’t be any consequences. When no one is watching — and there’s little chance we’ll pay for the wrongs we commit — what are most of us likely to do? Bad things … like steal money from perhaps the dumbest armored-car guards ever. In time, my guess is we’d all lose interest and begin to question what we did to keep us in this looping nightmare, just like Connors does.

6. One of Connors’s conquests while exploring his dark side is to manipulate and then bed Nancy Taylor (Marita Geraghty). The year after Groundhog Day was released, Geraghty played Margaret on “The Big Salad” episode of Seinfeld. Unfortunately, she didn’t fare much better there — Newman tells Jerry that he dumped Margaret because he considered her unattractive. (I try to find a way to work Seinfeld into everything.)

7. Something that has always puzzled me about Groundhog Day: Why didn’t Connors just stay awake past 6 a.m.? That’s the point at which February 2 begins again and he wakes to the awful “I Got You Babe” blaring. Drink some coffee, chase that with some Jolt (the energy soda for people who preferred their heart failure to taste like battery acid and come in a fun package), and a king-size Snickers — whatever you need to do. I suppose it’s inferred that Connors tried to stay awake through it, but Ramis should’ve made that clearer.

8. There’s a slew of memorable characters in Groundhog Day, but my favorite is definitely Ned “Needlenose Ned, Ned the Head” Ryerson. Ryerson (the character actor par excellence Stephen Tobolowsky) is supremely annoying, but when Connors slugs him, you almost feel bad for the guy. But remember, Ryerson points at Connors, laughs, and says, “Watch out for that first step; it’s a doozy!” each time Connors steps into a puddle. What kind of a person laughs at someone who gets a wet foot? Someone who deserves to be punched, that’s who.

9. Rita (Andie MacDowell), the producer, tells Connors that she “always toasts to world peace” when Connors is busy trying to seduce her. Talk about a buzzkill. Her drink of choice is also sweet vermouth on the rocks, which is just gross.

10. Murray seems extremely comfortable playing an unhappy person, so it makes sense that most of the good dialogue in Groundhog Day comes when he is still being mean to people. When Ryerson asks Connors what he is doing for dinner, Connors shoots back, “Something else.” At one point, Connors brushes someone off by bluntly stating, “Don’t mess with me porkchop.” Connors’s perfect day, the one he wished he was reliving, is also masterfully delivered. “I was in the Virgin Islands once,” Connors explains. “I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters.”

11. A lot of ambiguity surrounds just how much time passes during Connors’s endless loop. Ramis at one point is on record as saying it was ten years, but then he changed his mind and said it was “more like 30 or 40.” Tobolowsky (Ryerson) claimed in interviews that Ramis told him it was 10,000 years. I would say the 30 to 40 years is accurate, because Connors would need at least that to remember every tiny detail he learns about the townspeople, how to play the piano, etc.

12. After Connors grows tired of being repeatedly rebuffed by Rita, he begins a downward spiral. It’s at this point that he finally admits that he doesn’t like himself. He then tries to commit suicide by: driving off a cliff, electrocution via a toaster tossed into his bath water, jumping in front of a truck, and launching himself from a church bell tower. He lists a few more ways (burning, for example) that aren’t shown.

13. For someone who hates his job, give credit to Connors for continuing to go back to the live report on Punxsutawney Phil every day for decades. That’s an excellent work ethic.

14. Speaking of furry Phil, groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal. The more you know.

15. Debbie, a local who has cold feet about marrying another local named Fred, decides to go through with it after Connors convinces them that they’re in love. Fred is played by a very young Michael Shannon, who now is more widely known for portraying the ultra-creepy Nelson Van Alden on Boardwalk Empire.

16. It’s nice that Rita ends up falling for Connors, but she does so after just one day. I can hear Rita’s friends right now: “What? You just met that guy! Girl, what the hell is wrong with you? When you get back to Pittsburgh, we’re going out.”

17. Groundhog Day is definitely a time-travel movie. This is why Connors is capable of remembering details and learning new skills, like playing “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paginini,” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, on the piano. Connors is on a broken time record; when 6 a.m. hits, the record skips back to the exact same point of February 2.

18. Murray starred in Mad Dog and Glory — alongside Robert De Niro and Uma Thurman — in 1993 as well. In the film, Murray plays a mob boss who does stand-up comedy. De Niro, a shy police crime-scene photographer, saves Murray’s life, and to repay him, Murray asks De Niro to accept Thurman’s, uh, services. Now you know why you don’t remember Mad Dog and Glory.

19. Murray recently told GQ that the only way he’d return to traditionally funny movies like Groundhog Day is if he wrote one. It’s a shame, because rewatching this has made me appreciate just how perfect Murray is in straight comedies.

20. The moral of Groundhog Day? The easiest way to prevent undesirable time travel is to stop being a jackass.

Thoughts on Groundhog Day’s 20th Anniversary