Sunday, October 6, 2013

it's all one big crapshoot anyhoo

Ryan Gilbey's got this line about beginnings in his BFI critique of Groundhog Day. The film, he says, "manipulates the notion of structure: though it has three discernible acts, the entire picture is disguised as a succession of beginnings. Even the end, after the spell has been broken, is another kind of beginning." He calls this a "maddening extreme, offering an unspecified string of once-upon-a-times."

I imagine, like I think I mentioned way back when, the alternate universes the result from each of Phil's days, and we're only seeing the beginnings of those. And, I wonder what happens afterward.

Imagine, if you will, the day after Phil gets arrested. Were Gus and Ralph also thrown in Punxsutawney's "drunk tank" along with Phil? If so, is February 3rd just another day for them. Wednesday, they roll out of beds in the drunk tank they've probably been in a few times before, they get a warning about their public drunkenness, get asked a few questions about their new friend from out of town, then they head off to work. Meanwhile, Phil's charged with stuff like reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, evading arrest... And, is he famous enough that this gets attention back in Pittsburgh? Does Nan relish getting to tell the city how Phil went on a bender in Punxsutawney and has been asked to resign? Does Rita ever get a producer gig with PBH again after her prima donna charge got out of control?

And, what about Nancy Taylor, lonely dress shop worker? A guy she thinks she might maybe remember from high school--and wasn't he just so cute in Mrs. Walsh's English class, was he the reason Nancy didn't do so well in that class, because she was always being distracted by Phil Connors, future reporter? She doesn't know. She just knows that this latest Groundhog Day was one of the best days of her life, and she's going to proudly proclaim to everyone how Phil Connors, Pittsburgh bigshot, proposed. Except, he's probably acting a little weird this morning. Like he didn't mean any of it. And, how does he break it to her? Does he let her down easy, maybe not even break off the engagement just yet, let it stew for a while until he can figure out what to do? Or does he tell her he hadn't ever seen her until yesterday, make her feel like fool?

What about Laraine? Do you suppose he had to propose to her to get her into bed? Or, was she more amenable than Nancy was, seeing as how Laraine would dress up in a French maid costume in the blistery cold of midwinter and agree to call this guy she's never met Bronco? In the morning, maybe she's faster than Phil to get out of bed, wanting to put some distance between them. Maybe she just wanted someone to spend some time with on Groundhog Day because everyone else in town seems to think it's important and she was lonely. But, it's Wednesday now, and she's got a job to get to. Maybe she'll give Phil her number, maybe she won't. But, even if she does, she probably figures he'll never call. But, if she's still unattached come next February, maybe she'll be looking around Gobbler's Knob, wondering if Phil Connors got sent over from Pittsburgh again.

And, what about Herman and Felix? Are they suspected in the theft of all that money? Do they, at the least, lose their jobs with the armored truck company? If so, what does Felix do with his life? He's got a bad back and he's probably too old to learn new skills for a new job. Maybe the library needs a new security guard for the groundhog enclosure, but will they hire one of the guys who "lost" all that money?

And, what about all those awkward drives back to Pittsburgh in the PBH van with Rita stewing in the back, trying not to talk about how Phil came on to her last night and she had to slap him to get him to back off? Does Larry wonder why she and Phil are so quiet? Does he know what went down? Or, does he not care because he's been getting together with that woman who works in the dress shop--and, he should have remembered to get her name and number, but he figured (like he was in a Bad Idea Jeans ad, when am I gonna get back to Punxsutawney? But, then there's next year, and will she remember him, will she still be single or is she too much of a catch? And, really, why are Rita and Phil not talking for the entire ride back into the city?

What does Florence Lancaster do about the reporter from the big city who killed himself in her bathroom? How quickly does she need to get that bathroom available for guests again, or does the place empty out on February 3rd when the out-of-towners head back to their humdrum lives? Does business suffer because of the suicide? If so, might she claim that the ghost of Phil Connors haunts the 3rd floor and Sightings comes into town to cover it and the Cherry Street Inn becomes another stop on so many people's ghost tours of America?

Does that truck driver blame himself for killing that weatherman? Or, did he see the weird hand thing the guy was doing and figures the guy was insane? Does killing the crazy weatherman haunt his dreams at night? Does he end up being a regular at the local therapist, who seems to not have too great a grasp on what he's doing? And, the truck driver--let's call him Joe... Joe figures the therapist isn't helping so he starts looking for something new in his life, something to brighten his endless days of delivery. And, he meets a nice piano teacher named Mary one day when he'd delivering some packages to her house, and he used to play the violin back in high school, and they bond over music and get engaged on Christmas, and married the next Groundhog Day.

What about those three people we see crossing the street right before Phil Connors leaps from the Pennsylvanian Hotel to his death on the street below. He can't have landed more than a dozen feet behind them. Did they get his blood on their clothes? Did they look a little too closely at his mangled body, and did it bother them? Did one of them take to drinking at the bowling alley with Gus and Ralph every night to drown away the grisly details? Did one of them start seeing the inept therapist who, it turns out, had a crush on her in high school, and it's awkward because an old flame is rekindled but there's the doctor-patient relationship and it would be scandalous to get together, but they do it anyway, and who can even remember the name of the dead reporter that led them to each other?

And, what about Katie (the name I've assigned her), who didn't even want to go to her piano lesson on Groundhog Day, but her mother insisted because if you miss one Tuesday lesson, you might as well miss them all, and you want to get into Juilliard, right? And, after Mary just shoved her out into the cold, Katie's not so sure anymore. She just wants to get out of school already, forget all about music, forget about Punxsutawney and find something better. Her friend Debbie just got married, and she's not that much older than Katie is. She wonders if she can find a guy to marry her, to save her from this one bowling alley town. And, she thinks that new waiter at the Tip Top is pretty cute. He's older, came back to town after quitting college, but she thinks he just might be the one for her.

And then there's James. He's been boning up on his sculpting skills for months. Even before winter got into full swing, he'd get his hands on blocks of ice and work in the walk-in freezer he had installed in his house special just so he could practice his art. This was his year to win the competition on Groundhog Day. He thought his design--Punxsutawney Phil holding up the globe, Atlas style, was a winner, hands down. And, he'd been second runner up for three years running. It was his time, his turn. But, then that damned reporter from Pittsburgh entered the contest. And, no one thought anything of it at first. But, the guy was a master with the chainsaw and the chisel and his detail work was sublime. If he wasn't the enemy, James would have worshipped the guy for his skill with the ice. But, he was the enemy, and when they pronounced Phil Connors the winner, James barely held in his rage; he wanted to pick up his chainsaw and cut into the guy, sculpt him into a groundhog. And, maybe he would. But, not today, not in front of the crowd. He would find out where Phil Connors lived in Pittsburgh--he probably had a nice, quiet penthouse apartment, bigshot reporter like him--and he would show up one night and he would ring the door bell. And, Phil would come to the door, wearing a smoking jacket and a cravat, or something sophisticated like that, and James would not even bother reminding Phil who he was before making a bloody mess of his snooty outfit.

And, finally, what about Ned Ryerson? There's one Ned out there who maybe is in therapy because he realized he might just be homophobic and a good insurance man can't be too choosy about his customers; the gays need insurance too, he tells himself regularly, after he quits therapy after a scandal erupts when Dr. Little (my choice of name for him) starts dating one of his patients.

Then, there's another Ned out there who made the biggest sale of his career to his old buddy from high school, and he figure Phil will keep in touch now. But, Phil always has his assistant Kenny answer when Ned calls him, and Ned knows Phil is dodging him and he can't imagine why. They were best friends in school, and Ned still wishes he had stuck with Mary Pat--he imagines the kids they would have had, and he thinks Phil would have been a great uncle to them. And, he calls Phil again. He just wants to hear his voice. But, if anyone answers--and after a while, they just let it ring--it's Kenny. And, Ned starts drinking. And, one night, he's arrested on Gobbler's Knob, stark naked and pretending to whistle with his belly button.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to know that even the extras have lives.

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