My morning wake-up alarm is Sonny & Cher’s I’ve Got You Babe. I can’t say I’m exactly a big fan of Sonny & Cher, nor would I say it’s the kind of thing I’m going to stick on in my free time. No, the main reason I have it as my alarm is it’s the song that wakes up Phil Connors as he relives the same February 2nd over and over in Harold Ramis’ 1993 classic Groundhog Day, this year celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary.
Upon my first viewing of Groundhog Day when I was about ten years old, I was pretty nonplussed. After being a huge Ghostbusters fan, the idea of a new Bill Murray sci-fi comedy about a time loop seemed brilliant; basically, I expected another Ghostbusters. But to my confusion, Bill Murray didn’t seem to be fighting big CGI monsters or going through magic time portals as I imagined, but instead was sitting around in cafes chatting to Andie MacDowell. The synopsis had tricked me, this wasn’t filled with sci-fi hijinks; this was a rom-com! Ten year old me left the film not having given it much thought, apart from being slightly miffed at its deception.
Cut to around six years later. A sixteen year old me, lounging about over the Christmas holidays, has the TV on in the background. Groundhog Day starts, Phil Connors is reporting the weather, and as there’s not much to do that day, I sit down and pay attention. And then I’m laughing. And then I’m enraptured. And then suddenly it hits me that this is absolutely brilliant. By the end of the film, I am convinced that not only is it totally worth the praise, but one of the most perfect scripts ever written.
Since then, my opinion hasn’t wavered really. The way the film plays with structure and time is utterly ingenious, and something any aspiring comedy writer should look up to. The jokes hit the balance of dryness and absurdity absolutely beautifully, ranging from a big slapstick punch to Bill Murray’s trademark deadpan scorn. And the way in which it works in philosophical themes around the purgatorial state of the human condition and self-improvement, into what appears to be a light 90s comedy, is nothing short of staggering.
“Not only is Groundhog day totally worth the praise, but one of the most perfect scripts ever written”
But despite all of its technical brilliance, what really strikes me about Groundhog Day is how simple and pure its heart is. Unlike its protagonist, the film itself is the complete antithesis of cynical. It is a film centred on the importance of the small things in life. It encourages one to make the world a better place, and understand that if they’re not happy in themselves, there is always a chance to change. But in addition to all of that, it’s something basic really: it’s a film about being kind.
Sometimes, I genuinely do believe, that’s all that’s necessary. We can deconstruct or pontificate on things for hours, on the meaning of kindness, on what it is to be kind, but Groundhog Day is there to make us sit up and just do it. To go out there and give someone a little compliment, or do a bit of a favour. Phil Connors only gets and understand what he truly wants once he learns that those acts are what fulfil us. Sure, he learns along the way all the complex stuff: that death is inevitable, all the poetics and philosophy etc., but what saves him is learning to love the world around him.
And so that brings me back to my Groundhog Day Sonny & Cher alarm. I’m not a morning person – when I’m in a bad mood I’m certainly not a morning person. I’m also a bit of a cynic, who tends to balk at mawkish sentiment. But when I hear that alarm, I think of the message of how even if you’ve done something wrong, or are feeling down, you can always change that, make it right with the world, and getting out of bed suddenly isn’t a bad idea. That’s why we remember Groundhog Day twenty five years on: it makes us remember to grasp every day and make the most of our lives, whilst giving a few chuckles along the way.