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Blu-ray Review: ‘Groundhog Day’

★★★★☆

Harold Ramis’ prolific career is one that boasts numerous memorable comedic titles including Caddyshack (1980), Analyze This (1999) and, of course, Groundhog Day (1993), now released on Blu-ray for the very first time. February 2nd comes but once a year, unless you’re weatherman Phil Connors, played by the dry and doleful Bill Murray in one of his finest performances. When on location with producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) to cover Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day festivities, Phil hopes to gets the job done and head home as soon as he can, when an unexpected storm prevents him from leaving.

Stuck in the little American town, Phil awakes the next morning to discover that, once again, it’s Groundhog Day and that he is trapped in a never ending cycle where each day is the same as the last and tomorrow never comes. The utter charm and hilarity of Ramis’ feature has dated incredibly well, with the greatest strength resting on his collaborative relationship with Murray (Ramis worked on fifteen features with Murray and, for trivia fans, fell out with the actor over this production for over a decade), who is perfectly cast to capture the character’s bitterness towards the world whilst remaining likeable to audiences.

The character arc of Phil is expertly handled both in terms of screenplay and performance, where we see the Scrooge-like transformation from curmudgeon to exuberant romantic. Phil moves through various emotional phases: joy of living a life without consequences, suicidal at the prospect of life never changing, to finding pleasure in the small details of life. This is conveyed in a series of repeating, but always fresh, scenes where key elements such as characters and locations are retained with the plot gently moving forward to show the character’s redemption and romantic relationship with love interest Rita develop.

With Groundhog Day, Ramis comically exposes institutional smugness in a truly hilarious film via a pleasing dark satire on day-to-day life. From small towns to big cities, day in and day out life appears to consist of little else but the dull and drab, and never seems to change. But with well-handled optimism, Ramis shows that life really is what you make of it. Never preachy or moralising, Ramis lets rip with his shtick to carry this surprisingly weighty criticism off with wit and panache. For comedy value, Groundhog Day possesses a brilliant, often subtle, one-liner almost every minute.

From its critically successful theatrical release back in 1993 to its Blu-ray rerelease this year, Ramis’ Groundhog Day is a film to be cherished for the feel-good factor that reminds us of a time when commercial American cinema wasn’t a term of derision. Sit back and soak up the nostalgia – again, and again, and again…

Joe Walsh