Roger Ebert Revisits Groundhog Day

One of my favorite things that Ebert does as a reviewer is: he goes back and reviews films years after their release. He re-assesses them, and re-assesses his own original review. Really interesting. (He doesn’t do it with bad movies. He only does it with movies he liked.)

And here … is a GORGEOUS essay of his … looking back on Groundhog Day. Certain films, while they got 3-star or 4-star reviews upon their original release, sometimes take on a larger cultural importance as the years go by. They become “beloved”. (One infamous example is Bringing Up Baby which was a flop. Who knew??) Like – you can’t tell which movie is going to be one of THOSE movies: cherished, re-watched again and again and again, etc. Groundhog Day is obviously one of those movies.

Ebert, knowing now what he couldn’t know when the film was first released (that its success STILL hasn’t died down, and it’s now in “the canon”), takes a look at why this movie is so obviously special.

His observations are AWESOME, I think.

He really GETS the special-ness of Bill Murray. Or, I suppose, a lot of people “get” that special-ness, but Ebert knows how to express it:

Phil is played by Bill Murray, and Murray is indispensable; before he makes the film wonderful, he does a more difficult thing, which is to make it bearable. I can imagine a long list of actors, whose names I will charitably suppress, who could appear in this material and render it simpering, or inane. The screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis is inspired, but inspired crucially because they saw Bill Murray in it. They understood how he would be able to transform it into something sublime, while another actor might reduce it to a cloying parable. Ramis and Murray had worked together from the dawn of their careers, at Second City in Chicago, and knew each other in the ways only improvisational actors can know each other, finding their limits and strengths in nightly risks before a volatile and boozy audience. I doubt if Ramis would have had the slightest interest in directing this material with anyone else but Murray. It wasn’t the story that appealed to him, but the thought of Murray in it.

The Murray persona has become familiar without becoming tiring: The world is too much with him, he is a little smarter than everyone else, he has a detached melancholy, he is deeply suspicious of joy, he sees sincerity as a weapon that can be used against him, and yet he conceals emotional needs. He is Hamlet in a sitcom world.

And then there’s more.

In “Groundhog Day” (1993), notice how easily he reveals that Phil (the weatherman, not the groundhog) is a perfect bastard. He doesn’t raise his voice or signal through energetic acting that he’s an insufferable jerk. He just is.

THAT’S why Bill Murray is a good actor. Those couple of sentences right there. THAT’S why he was nominated for an Oscar. He never ever “signals”. He just “is”.

And here’s THIS beautiful observation:

What amazes me about the movie is that Murray and Ramis get away with it. They never lose their nerve. Phil undergoes his transformation but never loses his edge. He becomes a better Phil, not a different Phil. The movie doesn’t get all soppy at the end. There is the dark period when he tries to kill himself, the reckless period when he crashes his car because he knows it doesn’t matter, the times of despair.

We see that life is like that. Tomorrow will come, and whether or not it is always Feb. 2, all we can do about it is be the best person we know how to be. The good news is that we can learn to be better people. There is a moment when Phil tells Rita, “When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel.” The point is not that he has come to love Rita. It is that he has learned to see the angel.

A lovely revisitation of one of my favorite movies. Here’s the thing in its entirety. If you love that movie, don’t miss Ebert’s essay.

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13 Responses to Roger Ebert Revisits Groundhog Day

  1. Easycure says:

    I love that movie too…and every time I run across it on TBS I cannot help but watch it AGAIN. Why is that?

  2. red says:

    I have the same thing! I just never get tired of it. Who knows why!! There are only a couple of movies out there like that … but Groundhog Day is definitely one of them. It just WORKS.

  3. Dan says:

    Did you see the bit in the New Yorker a while back about Ramis? Seems there’s some sorta estrangement between him and Murray – sad that they won’t be doing any more movies together.

  4. Lisa says:

    Harold Ramis in Stripes, and then again in Ghostbusters, was my first Geek Love.

  5. red says:

    I loved Stripes myself. I’m a big fan of both of those guys, but my Bill Murray crush was one of my first serious celeb crushes. And that went back to the skits he did with Gilda Radner about the geeky couple on SNL … GOD. Weren’t those skits incredible??? I was 11 or whatever, and I fell madly in love with Bill Murray’s pasty-faced charm, as he gave Gilda Radner merciless “noogies” on the couch.

    And then when Tootsie came out? Fuggedaboutit. I think I loved Bill Murray’s character in that movie better than Dustin Hoffman’s character! So dry, so funny.

  6. beth says:

    i probably reference that movie more than any other.

  7. peteb says:

    As Mr Ebert also says, “It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is”.. true.. true.. it’s the apparent effortlessness that makes it all work..

    Must highlight the reason, IMHO – “They never lose their nerve”

  8. red says:

    Also, it’s not just a goof. They treat the whole thing very logically. And when it gets serious, or romantic – they’ve earned our trust. They’ve created a logical situation.

  9. peteb says:

    Totally. We’d be suspicious if they treated it as a goof. And rightly so. As Egert suggested with his link to the Independent article and references.. at the heart of the movie is a real idea that deserved to be treated logically and seriously – and they did – but they also did it entertainingly.

  10. MikeR says:

    “And when it gets serious, or romantic – they’ve earned our trust.”

    Most high-concept movies lazily rely on the concept and never attempt to really DO something with it. The characters are just standard cardboard cutouts. Groundhog Day is a great movie because it’s so smooth and seamless – there’s never even a suggestion of any clanking machinery. It’s not an easy thing even for very talented people to pull off, but it happened here. The movie lays extensive groundwork to provide us with a believable character, who then responds to the improbable situation in a completely believable way. It is difficult to imagine anyone else who could have done what Murray does in that role. The guy is just a brilliant actor.

    I’ve loved Groundhog Day ever since I first saw it in the theater on its initial run, but it’s been a long time since my last viewing. I think it’s one I need to own…

  11. red says:


    me too. I can’t believe I don’t own it, actually, considering my feelings for it.

  12. Big Dan says:

    I also count myself among those who own “Groundhog Day” and watch it at least every couple months.

    It’s also important to catch Murray in any Pro-Am golf events he plays in. It’s the same guy as on the screen and in interviews. He’s just who he is, all the time.

  13. Dave J says:

    Happy Groundhog Day! God, I do love that movie.

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