Sunday, August 11, 2013

he likes the town, he paints toy soldiers, and he's gay

Insert a pretentious subtitle here, something about the representation of gender roles in Groundhog Day.

Bill is just a waiter at the Tip Top Café. Well, he was in fictional 1993. He’d been working there for three years since he left Penn State. And, as the title above says, he was (and I suppose still is, presumably, if these fictional realities continue on even when we don’t invest further attention into them) gay.

In Danny Rubin’s original script, Bill was supposed to deny being gay—Rubin thought that was funnier, but Harold Ramis changed it (according to Rubin, but the second revision by Ramis still has Bill say “I am not!”). “Having Bill deny the assertion could have been confusing” Rubin says, in a scene in which Phil is “trying to prove to Rita that he knows everything and everyone.” Rubin adds:

But I think the real reason the line changed was political correctness. A gay man being outed against his will might be funny or it might be considered cruel. A gay man casually and proudly attesting to his gayness is perhaps modeling a healthy kind of reaction for the audience.

Whatever. I just find it interesting how every little detail in a screenplay could become a big test of values and taste.

Rubin doesn’t mention a couple other gender-related issues in the movie, but I will.

First, there’s something arguably just meant to be cute and innocent, not furthering the homosexual agenda—by the way for readers who don’t know me, you better note the sarcasm in my terminology here—or promoting old lesbian couples. There are three “Flat Tire Lady” credits in Groundhog Day according to IMDb (Barbara Ann Grimes, Ann Heekin, and Lucina Paquet). I don’t know which two are dancing at the Groundhog Dinner with each other, but you’d remember them; they call Phil “that nice young man from the motor club” and “the fastest jack in Jefferson County.” The odd thing is, I don’t think I ever noticed these two women were dancing with each other until today—actually my 10-year old daughter Saer pointed it out, so I guess I still didn’t notice it. Now, a couple of old women, out on the town on Groundhog Day without dates—they might just be dancing together because it’s all they’ve got. I mean, the one hasn’t bought Larry yet for 2 bits at this point. But, in light of the other things in this here blog entry, I choose to assume that fictional Punxsutawney (if not the real place) is (or rather, was, in 1993) a progressive place, where gay waiters can be out and proud about it and a couple of old women can dance together not because they’ve got no better options but because they have chosen each other as their best options.

Then, there’s Debbie and Fred Kleiser. A quick note: these characters don’t exist in Rubin’s original draft. By the second revision by Ramis, they are in there, but Debbie’s name is Doris (and Doris apparently doesn’t exist… I say apparently, because I haven’t yet read the entirety of that version of the script yet). Also, in the second revision, Phil gives them the Wrestlemania tickets at their wedding, not at the Groundhog Dinner. The detail I want to mention is in the film though, not necessarily any of the drafts of the screenplay. One might assume it’s just a simple mistake. But, in light of certain other gender role-related issues evident here, I want to promote a different take on it.

What is this mistake that may be an agenda related to gender roles, you ask. Well, In the I-am-a-god scene at the Tip Top Café mentioned above, Phil tells Rita: “This is Debbie Kleiser and her fiancé Fred.” The thing is, they aren’t married yet. Now, Phil might just think of them as married already, because he’s been through this day at least a few times by this point. Or, Debbie’s last name is Kleiser, which implies a couple possibilities. Given what we know of the people in Punxsutawney on February 2nd—as Phil says, “they’re hicks, Rita”—one might jump to the conclusion that Debbie and Fred are cousins, both with the last name Kleiser, which is why at the Groundhog Dinner, Phil introduces them to Rita as “Debbie and Fred Kleiser.” I choose not to take this route. I choose to assume, instead that Fred, being a progressive male, stepping past traditional stereotypes and heteronormative gender roles, has taken his bride’s last name in place of his own. And, not just because he happens to also be an alien from the planet Krypton.

On the more negative end of the gender-related issue spectrum in Groundhog Day, of course, there is Phil’s hugging of Ned—which Simon Gallagher calls “sexually harassing” but I wouldn’t go that far. Ned is dealt with a little differently in Rubin’s original script; since the story begins with Phil already repeating, he has taken to punching Ned every morning, and we as the viewers don’t know why until later… long story short, after Phil considers that he might be a god, he decides to be benevolent and, having forgotten why he’s punching this guy every day, he doesn’t punch him one day and we learn who Ned is. Film Ned, as Rubin points out in a footnote to his original draft, is an “actual character” as opposed to an unknown, a plot device. But anyway, on day 31 (according to my onscreen count), Phil meets Ned in a different location than usual…

(probably because he’s been moving a little faster to have time to get those pastries and coffees in order to arrive with them at about the same time at Gobbler’s Knob… but there’s a flaw here, if I stick with my day count, because, this same day, he has walked past the Old Man as the same car is passing him… but, I can simply choose to assume this car is circling, looking for parking to get to the festivities. So, Phil can then pass the Old Man, give him a wad of cash, not meet Ned on this particular morning, and then all is well with the world. As long as a world in which one man is repeating the same day over and over again in a tiny hamlet in western Pennsylvania can be termed “well.” And, unfortunately for Phil, avoiding Ned in the morning does not mean he won’t run into him later.)

And, instead of the usual exchange, Phil takes the initiative and embraces Ned, tells him, “I have missed you so much. I don't know where you're headed, but can you call in sick?” It’s played for laughs, it’s a bit offensive and politically incorrect, but it doesn’t really seem out of character for a) Phil Connors (even this far into his journey) or b) a film from the early 90s. Hell, we’ve still got that sort of homophobic thing in movies or TV today—was it a comedian who had that bit about men hugging in the 80s? The reason men pat each other on the back when they hug is because then they’re also hitting each other, and that’s manly… Which is sad, really. In fact, when I think about it more, I think Phil’s hugging (though I still don’t think “sexually harassing” is a good descriptor) Ned may be worse than hitting him. Of course, all cards on the table, I once affirmed in a college debate round a resolution that said something like professional prostitution is more moral than professional boxing. At one point I said that I’d rather have sex with everyone in the room than hit any of them… which makes me a pacifist and possibly a pervert.

But, I was talking about Groundhog Day.

Is fictional Punxsutawney a progressive town as far as gender issues go? Maybe. Has Phil learned to go along with that by the end of his journey? Well, I guess, not so much. I guess that whatever god has been torturing him didn’t think that bit was worth learning. What a jerk.

And, I didn’t even mention Phil’s casual comparison in a derogatory fashion of Larry’s sweater to the uniform of a girl scout. Or, Phil’s apparent womanizing.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to see if I can find some serious issues about race in Groundhog Day; I mean, seriously, why is the black bartender’s role so limited?

1 comment:

  1. Ann Heekin, the flat tire lady in the back seat, is the actress in the red dress that's dancing with the other flat tire lady and the one that won Chris Elliott's character in the bid at the dance. I had the pleasure of meeting Ann.

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