After 30 years, ‘Groundhog Day’ holds up, and you can say that again

Chicago connections are many for the Bill Murray classic that’s funny, poignant and way better than sweet vermouth on the rocks, with a twist.

SHARE After 30 years, ‘Groundhog Day’ holds up, and you can say that again
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As he does every day for 30 or 40 or possibly 10,000 years, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) covers the celebrations in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in “Groundhog Day.”

Columbia Pictures

Bill Murray’s Phil Connors is deep into his time-loop journey and has been through the wringer when he tells Andie MacDowell’s Rita he believes he is a god — maybe not THE God, but a god nonetheless:

“I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned,” says Phil. And every morning I wake up without a scratch on me. … I am immortal.”

Yet of all the painful, unimaginable, horrific experiences Phil endures time and again in Harold Ramis’ classic “Groundhog Day,” was there anything more brutal than having to drink a sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, over and over and over?

As you’ll recall, when Phil sidles up next to Rita in the bar and offers to buy her a drink, he initially asks for “Jim Beam, ice, water,” but on subsequent repeated Groundhog Days, he changes his order to match Rita’s favorite drink of “Sweet vermouth, rocks with a twist.” It sounds … awful, but in the name of research for this celebration of the 30th anniversary of one of the great comedies of all time, I am going to take a pause to actually consume a sweet vermouth, rocks, with a twist. Please hold.

Wow. That’s bad. It tastes like something a doctor in the 1890s would prescribe to get rid of that nagging cough. That was some sacrifice Phil Connors was making in the name of possible romance.

For reasons lost to marketing history, “Groundhog Day” was released not on Groundhog Day in 1993, but 10 days later, on Feb. 12 of that year. It received positive reviews and was a sizable hit — and has only grown in reputation and status through the decades, with the American Film Institute ranking it No. 34 in its 2000 list of the greatest comedies, and a 2014 poll of entertainment industry members in the Hollywood Reporter placing it as the 63rd best film of all time. And of course, the northwest suburban city of Woodstock, which stood in for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in the movie, will forever celebrate and be remembered as the setting for “Groundhog Day.”

Whether you have “Groundhog Day” on Repeat and you watch it every year (oh the joyous irony!) or you’re new to the viewing experience, here are a few of my favorite things about the movie:

  • The Chicago connection is strong with this one. Bill Murray and his brother Brian Doyle-Murray (who plays the groundhog wrangler Buster Green) are of course Chicago area guys, as was director and co-writer Ramis. Chicago stage alum Michael Shannon had his first film role in “Groundhog Day,” playing Fred, the young groom whose fiancé has second thoughts on their wedding day, until Phil counsels the couple and they go through with it. And the Chicago-born actress Marita Geraghty plays Nancy Taylor, who is led to believe she went to high school with that rascal Phil, who initially uses the time loop for personal gain.
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Stephen Tobolowsky plays insurance salesman Ned Ryerson.

Columbia Pictures

  • In retrospect, it hardly seems a coincidence that the pesky Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) was a life insurance salesman, as his initial pitch to Phil foreshadows events to come: “You know, I got friends of mine who live and die by the actuarial tables and I say, ‘Hey, it’s all one big crap shoot anyhoo.’ ”
  • The fake movie playing at the Alpine Theater is “Heidi II.” In one of the more inexplicable sequences in the film, Phil drives a vintage Mercedes and arrives at the Alpine dressed up as Clint Eastwood from a Spaghetti Western, while his date is in costume as a maid. Speaking in a raspy, Eastwood-like voice, Phil says he’s seen this movie more than a hundred times and tells his date, “Call me Bronco.” Um, what?
  • How long is Phil stuck in the time loop? The original screenplay by Danny Rubin indicated Phil had lived the same day for 10,000 years. Ramis once told the New York Times he believed it was 10 years, but later amended that to 30 or 40 years in order to allot enough time for Phil to learn to become proficient at the piano, learn ice sculpting, master French, etc. A handful of pop-culture writers have tried to pin down the exact number of years, days and hours — but let’s just go with a very long time.
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One possible ending had Rita (Andie MacDowell, with Murray) entering her own time loop.

Columbia Pictures

  • Murray was famously difficult on the set, and his numerous battles with Harold Ramis led to the two of them becoming estranged for years — but they did reconcile shortly before Ramis’ death in 2014. In 2018, I spoke with Ramis’ daughter, Violet Ramis Stiel, who said, “Maybe that estrangement was the right thing. They both went on with their lives. And they were able to reconnect at the end. To focus on what went wrong between them misses the point of their collaborations.”
  • Violet also noted that Ramis’ move back to the Chicago area in the mid-1990s was precipitated by his time on this film: “After he made ‘Groundhog Day’ in Woodstock, he just realized he was a Midwestern guy, and he wanted to go home.”
  • One possible ending for “Groundhog Day” had Rita entering her own time loop, which could have brought about a sequel. Over the years, we’ve seen a myriad of movies and films that were variations on the repeat-the-same-day routine, including “Christmas Again,” “Palm Springs,” “Russian Doll,” “Happy Death Day,” “Meet Cute,” “Boss Level,” “Source Code” and “Edge of Tomorrow” and in 2017 there was “Groundhog Day” the musical, which garnered seven Tony nominations — but thankfully, unless you count Murray’s 2020 Super Bowl commercial (and I don’t), we’ve never had a direct sequel to “Groundhog Day.”

Which is as it should be, as perfect movies should be left alone.

“Groundhog Day” is screening Thursday and Sunday at local theaters (see fathomevents.com for details) and over and over, time loop style, on AMC from 10 a.m. Thursday until 1 a.m. Friday. Meanwhile, the City of Woodstock’s Groundhog Days festival continues through Sunday, with screenings of “Groundhog Day,” a walking tour of movie sites and a Q&A with the movie’s screenwriter, Danny Rubin.

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