On February 12, 1993, Bill Murray lived the same day over and over and over again in theaters nationwide. And Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis, wound up as a commercial success and an enduringly popular comedy. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Columbia Pictures marketing chieftain Sid Ganis must have seen his shadow when he came out this past Groundhog Day, for the marketing/boxoffice prediction reads six excellent weeks of boxoffice for director Harold Ramis‘ Groundhog Day.
Warm word-of-mouth should be followed by some repeat patterns and probably cause this comic front to remain steady until at least Easter.
In this circular scenario, Bill Murray stars as Phil, a hotshot weathercaster from Pittsburgh who’s experiencing an emotional low, namely professional burnout. Phil’s deployed once again to the not-so-teeming burg of Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival.
Now Pittsburgh Phil is not exactly a Willard Card when it comes to discovering the excellencies of off-the-beaten-path outposts. Neither the polka bands, the thick food nor the happy locals inspire Phil to stay for more than a perfunctory sound bite.
One would have to scour the files of H.L. Mencken to find a journalist more hostile to the virtues of small-town “booboisie” than Phil.
Like Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, Phil’s fate is to be marooned in this provincial burg, although not because of a physical injury. Due to some Twilight Zone-ish peculiarity, he finds himself stuck in time, forced to repeat over and over again the same day, Groundhog Day. Indeed, screenwriters Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis contrived the worst possible purgatory for hiply urban, off-center Phil, a stay in a small town where the common folk’s sensibilities run counter to his own.
While scholars may someday wax about the philosophical implications inherent in such a Sisyphean narrative, no one will ever accuse Rubin or Ramis of gunking up Groundhog Day with abstract ideologies. It is, basically, a fish-out-of-water yarn, namely Bill Murray ploncked down into the gooiest crust of mid-Americana.
While Murray’s deadpan putdowns and dry dismissals of provincial peccadilloes are the comic highlights, Groundhog Day is no supercilious rip of small-town U.S.A. Under Ramis‘ even-handed, smartly tilted direction, Groundhog Day also shows the strong virtues of small-town decencies and the maturing-effect they have on the glib media-slicker.
Groundhog Day‘s comedy, while broad and sharply satirical, is nicely stroked with a love subplot, namely Phil’s falling for his brainy, down-to-earth producer (Andie MacDowell). Although such a match is not entirely credible, it’s a winning story arc and a solid narrative.
Technical contributions are a hoot, especially composer George Fenton’s fortissimo bombasts and production designer David Nichols’ boondock flourishes. Columbia, however, should brace for some sharp rebuttals on the Groundhog correctness front: Sun Prairie, Wis., which also celebrates Groundhog Day and is closer to the Northern Illinois area where Groundhog Day was filmed, claims its Groundhog is much more accurate than that poseur from Punxsutawney. — Duane Byrge, originally published Feb. 8, 1993.