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Even the funniest movies eventually stop being funny after its watched enough times, the humor no longer surprises. A joke never has the same effect when you know the punch line in advance. But every once in a blue moon, a comedy comes along that is so thoughtful and meaningful in addition to being funny that after seeing it a dozen times and laughing less often, It's noticeable its depth and insight. No movie has such a perfectly united funny aspects with profundity as in Groundhog Day, which happens to be one of my personal favorite comedies.
Superficially, this film belongs roughly in the same genre as comedies in which a character becomes the victim of some weird supernatural fate and must adapt to the insane logic of the situation. And Bill Murray's sarcastic, bored approach is exactly the genious touch this film needed. I can't imagine any other way for this film to work as well as it did, where the world is going crazy around Phil the weatherman, Murray's hard-edged character who keeps his emotions bottled up. What makes the initial scenes in which he first discovers his fate so hilarious is the mounting panic in his demeanor even as he tries to act like everything's normal. All he can think of to say is, "I may be having a problem.", throughout the rest of the film, he'll deliver similarly muted lines to describe his situation. It's striking that a man who has all the time in the world would choose his words so carefully, but it reflects a very well-conceived screenplay.
In this comedy, the laughs are reinforced by repetition. The absurdity of Phil discovering that he's repeating the same day over and over again is funny enough, every time that the alarm clock goes off and the radio starts playing, "I Got You Babe" and Phil goes through the same motions and meets the same people and then goes out into the street to be accosted by the same annoying high school buddy "Phiiiil?", the spectator laughs again because he's reminded how funny it was the first time around. People who may not like this film (there MAY have one or two) emphasize how annoying it is that everything gets repeated. It's understandable such complaint, since jokes repeated over and over usually fail miserably. In Groundhog Day however, works uniquely well because the situation gets increasingly absurd and Phil gets equally desperate with each day that fails to pass by.
The film would have vanished quickly iof it had spent the entire time showing Phil meeting the same people and doing the same things time and again. The fact that Groundhog Day avoids this fate is one of its more striking qualities, since most high-concept comedies of this sort fall apart in the third act. Here is a rare example of one that completely follows through with its premise, leading from the initial situation logically to the ending. Only the Jeopardy scene feels like a skit that could have appeared anywhere. But this scene actually is placed wisely: it occurs when Phil is becoming increasingly bored and lethargic, and it is used to separate two hilarious scenes where he gives nutty television reports.
It is in the middle, centering on Phil's attempts to seduce Rita, when the film reveals itself to be more than just a comedy. The underlying implication of these scenes is that Phil's powers are less important than he thinks they are. He probably could have done the same things (such as his exploits with Nancy) under ordinary circumstances, without the "magic". Ultimately he realizes that his powers doesn't matter, because Rita is too smart and sees right through him. She may not understand the full "supernatural" implications of what he's doing, but she senses that he's somehow manipulating all through the situations. Phil may think he's a god, but he isn't all-powerful.
It's difficult to think of any other actor having pulled this off. Bill Murray is not the only comic actor to have proved himself capable of dramatic depth, but he's one of the few who can mix his humorous and serious side into the same character.
Though this film has a serious message, it is still essentially a comedy. But it's a comedy that uses psychological exploration of a fascinating character to make its point. Once you see through the jokes, Groundhog Day turns out to be also a very rich and deep film.
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