25 Years Later And Groundhog Day Is Still Comedy Gold
“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today… the big question on everybody’s lips… On their chapped lips… Do ya think Phil is gonna come out and see his shadow? Punxsutawney Phil! That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers it’s… GROUNDHOG DAY!”
These lines are famous for one reason, they are repeated more times than one cares to count in the classic comedy from director Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day. This minor holiday is immortalized because of Bill Murray’s performance and Ramis’ genius story and direction. It’s a story that still makes you laugh and think 25 years later. In premise it’s redundant, annoying and like an earworm pop song something you can’t shake out of your head but the redemption of Murray’s Phil Conners sets it apart from the Ace Ventura‘s and Billy Madisons of the 1990s. Let’s call it the Adele to the Taylor Swift’s of the film world because the theme is true and not just formulaic.
So let’s celebrate this beauty of a comedy! Here’s a little more about that awesome story, some trivia about the film, and an joyful account of a recent trip to Woodstock, Illinois where the film was shot!
Let’s Talk About That Story…
If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day, that is a wrong you should amend pronto. Maybe you’re a millennial and you literally were not born in 1993, or maybe you are put off by the idea of the film. But just to put a bug in your bonnet, here’s the story. A middle-aged, egotistical weather man, Phil Conners, (Murray) is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover Groundhog Day, something he’s done before and loathes. News producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) are along for the ride and try to bring attention to the wonder of the day and the charm of the little town. Conners’ bad attitude continues through the day and is compounded when a blizzard traps them in the “God forsaken hell-hole” for the night. The next morning he wakes to the familiar sounds and sights of the previous holiday and quickly realizes that something is terribly wrong. Over the following days he tries to figure out how to end the cycle. He tries to do everything right, he decides to do whatever he wants, and he even tries to end it all, but without fail he wakes up to the sounds of Sonny and Cher singing “I’ve Got You Babe” on the clock radio morning after morning.
In the third act of the film, something clicks in old Phil Conners’ noggin and his gaze turns towards the people that he shares life with in this never-ending loop. No longer is he only looking out for himself, but he’s caring for the old man on the corner, the young couple getting married and even his coworkers. The lessons are hard won and learned and the curse is broken. Similar to a Disney fairy tale, Conners finally awakes from the experience and he’s a better man and he’s won the heart of the girl, MacDowell. But it’s neither cheesy or forced, it’s hopeful and that’s the beauty and truth of Groundhog Day. Every time I watch it I kinda wish I was in his shoes, I wish I had the gift of that time! And the reality is that I do have that gift, with every alarm on my phone I have another day to look outward instead of at myself. That my dear buddies, that is GENIUS! It’s rare to find such a deep philosophical truth pleasantly planted in a comedy. But can those two coexist, the philosophy and the hilarity? Let’s look at some trivia to find out.
Groundhog Day Trivia
1. How Many Groundhog Days Does Conners Actually Repeat?
If you are wondering about exacts, the film depicts 38 separate Groundhog Days but the best guess about actual time that passes is around 30 to 40 years, per Ramis. Some people guesstimate thousands of years and equaled it to something like purgatory. When you consider that he learned to ice sculpt and play piano like a boss this infinity seems reasonable! But Ramis equals the lessons learned to a lifetime of knowledge gained. In that way this horror of repetition is actually a gift. Where else do you get a spare lifetime to learn all the lessons of friendship, kindness and love without aging a day?
2. Nice Guys Not Needed!
Bill Murray wasn’t the first pick for Phil Conners. Nope! Any guesses who could have filled those sarcastic shoes? Originally, Ramis considered Tom Hanks for the role. That’s right, nice-guy Hanks, can you imagine? That niceness did not work in Hanks’ favor as Ramis quickly realized they needed someone a little darker for the lead role. His Ghostbusters buddy Murray was a perfect balance of happy/sad and was cast. Also, if you can believe it, Tori Amos was considered for the role of Rita Hanson. But maybe this is where the niceness was needed and the exuberant Andie MacDowell was cast instead. Imagine that alternate universe!
3. The Fued
It’s a sad fact that Groundhog Day caused a split in the friendship of Ramis and Murray. The two came to the set with different views of the film. Ramis’ first priority was to keep the heavy, Nietzsche based ideas of the film light and comedic while Murray wanted to dive into the darker and philosophical themes. This tension was apparent on set and it made the shoot very difficult. Ramis and Murray didn’t speak for 20 years after the film wrapped and the only reason there was any reconciliation was Ramis’ Vasculitis was deemed fatal. Murray visited Ramis to end their feud before he died in 2014. This fact breaks my heart!
Last Fact… Where Was Groundhog Day Filmed?
In the film the Pittsburgh news crew head to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania but the film was actually shot in Woodstock, Illinois. Picked for it’s picturesque town square, the town of Woodstock played host to the film from March to May of 1992. (It didn’t hurt that it was just 60 miles from Ramis’ home town of Chicago too!) Woodstock was already known for it’s star power! It’s the birthplace of the Dick Tracy comics, it has a world renowned Opera House that stared the likes of Paul Newman, Ed Asner and Mickey Rooney just to name a few and Woodstock was home to Mr. Citizen Kane himself Orson Wells during his high school and college years. So the addition of Groundhog Day made this tiny jewel of a town even more of a movie magnet. And here’s the best part, you can go to Woodstock, Illinois every February 2nd and have that same Groundhog Day experience as the film!
This year being the 25th anniversary of the film I grabbed my friend Danielle and booked a room for our own day of hilarity and philosophy, after all I only live a couple hours away. You can visit the B&B that Phil Conners wakes up in morning after morning, you can drink to world peace in the same spot as Rita and you can lose all sense of feeling in your toes on as you listen to polka music and wait for “Woodstock Willie” to peak out of his hole! They read word for word the same message that Conners heard on the radio before bringing out a real live woodchuck to the cheers of the thousands that have come from all over the world for the multi-day event.
Little has changed in Woodstock, you can step in the same spot that the “Doozie Puddle” used to inhabit and you can even have a “Snow Dance” in the same gazebo as Murray and MacDowell. We watched a couple get married this year and share their first dance to the song that played in the film. This is real movie magic, It’s like being on the set! And, bonus, everything is free! Free walking tours of the town, free film showings at the same theater shown in the movie and free photos with “Woodstock Willie”! If you are a Murray fan, sadly you won’t find him in Woodstock. Because of his fallout with Ramis and bad memories from the shoot he, nor Ande MacDowell have ever returned for the festivities but that doesn’t detract from the fun. With adorable shops, wonderful local eateries and happy new friends that are all more than willing to snap a picture, you are bound to have a smile on your face when you leave and end your experience by saying “Let’s move here!” If you live in Illinois or anywhere near this darling hamlet it is a must at the beginning of your year, just like Groundhog Day! So Happy Anniversary to all involved and here’s to 25 more years of learning from our mistakes and not six more weeks of winter! BING!