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This movie is a Billy Murray vehicle that centers around his character, Phil Connors, who goes to Punxatawney, Illinois to cover the Groundhog day festival, and he wants to immediately get home afterwards.
Instead, what happens is that he, for some inexplicable reason–probably just a stretch and some magical realism–is going to be reliving this day of madness. According to this movie’s IMDB page, Phil ends up living this same for 10 years. That sucks. Especially since that means that he had to do the same report on the same groundhog for 3,652 days (+2 for leap years). 3,652 of the same actions, the same bed, the same song on the radio. And nobody else notices the loop.
As a result, he goes through phases of denial and then anger and then, finally resolve–as if he’s dead. He begins to learn everyone’s name in the diner, begins to learn piano, begins reading French poetry. He can remember the days before, but everyone else thinks it’s the same February 2nd. And the worst part is that, because of the blizzard, he can’t leave the little podunk town.
This movie doesn’t have much to say in the way of philosophy, but it definitely is an interesting concept–doing anything you want. He steals money, drives off a cliff, jumps off a building, drops a toaster in the bathtub, all to no avail. Phil would rather be dead than in Punxatawney. And what’s interesting about the aspect that he’s spent over 3,600 days in the town, it may mean that each and every cut is from a different day. This movie allows you to laugh a lot at all the crazy antics as Phil runs into Ned Ryerson from high school and steps in a puddle and flirts with his new producer who, over the time, has fallen in love.
I used to think that, it would be only if he the day within the perfect course of actions, he could be freed, but now I’m not so sure. It might have been some kind of punishment from God. Who knows. What I do know, though, is that this movie offers many jokes and many laughs and many heartwarming moments. Is it high art? No, it’s probably somewhere in the middle, but it’s a great movie to snuggle up with someone and watch.
In the late 70’s, John Kaye wrote a script about Hunter S. Thompson, exonerating his Gonzo ways. Art Linson said, “Okay, I’ll direct it,” and Bill Murray said, “Okay, I’ll play Hunter.”
And then the movie came out and Hunter has been heard publicly denouncing this movie. And I can see why.
Bill Murray does an excellent job as Hunter S. Thompson, down to the demeanors and the nuances. It makes sense since Bill Murray is a top-notch comedic actor and he also spent a good amount of time with Thompson working on the movie.
But aside from Murray’s performance, this movie falls flat on its ass. Peter Boyle’s Lazlo is over-the-top in ways that can’t even be described as slap-stick or vaudeville. He’s just a dumbass attorney–one that is completely different than the Chicano”Samoan” attorney that he was modeled after (for a better version of this attorney see Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). And everyone else is just poorly written and cast aside. It’s as if they wrote the script with just Thompson in a vacuum and then said, “Oh shit, he needs to have things to interact with,” and quickly wrote up all the other characters. Though I bet that if they had made a Thompson-in-a-vacuum movie, it would have been super-interesting in how Beckett-esque it would have been. I mean, could you imagine Hunter S. Thompson in Waiting for Godot? It would be awesome and uncouth.
One thing that bothered was that, during the ending, HST looks as if he’s about to abandon Lazlo and his crazy ideas–the current one being something about land in the desert. And, unless I’m mistaken, Hunter would never abandon someone because, to him, everyone he did or did not like was pivotal to his story. You can see this type of thing in his personality in you read Ralph Steadman’s book The Joke’s Over.
I’d also argue that a better sidekick for Hunter in this film would’ve been Ralph, who was his artist since the Kentucky Derby in 1970, at the very beginnings of the whole Gonzo movement. Their friendship had much more charisma and is one that should, hopefully, one day be made into a film (though I don’t know if we really need another movie about Thompson.).
This is a movie that falls on its ass and really wouldn’t seem very interesting to anyone who isn’t a huge fan of Bill Murray andor Hunter S. Thompson. Murray does such a good job that his performance makes the two hours of the film bearable.
Corollary: If you’re seeing this because you love Neil Young, you’re going to be disappointed. Every goddam song is merely a replay of “Home on the Range” with a different style to make it fit for each scene. And that’s pretty grating after Variation #3.