Saturday, February 22, 2014

let me just drop a tip here

I wrote about Larry's bar scene (and relationship chances) with Nancy way back on Day 32.

There isn't much dialogue to the exchange; it's mostly Larry...

Larry: People just don’t understand what is involved in this. This is an art form. You know, I think that most people just think that I hold the camera and point it at stuff. There is a heck of a lot more to it than just that. Hey, would you be at all interested in seeing the inside of the van?

Nancy: You know, I really have to get back to the party.

Larry: Great idea. I think I’ll go with you. Let me just drop a tip here.

And Larry puts maybe a dollar down and then quite deftly picks it right back up once Nancy isn't looking.

Ryan Gilbey (2004) barely mentions this scene in his critique. "In the bar of the Pennsylvanian Hotel...," he writes, "Larry is trying, and failing, to seduce Nancy" (p. 76). The character of Larry is called

  • "darkly funny" by Janet Maslin in The New York Times, 12 February 1993
  • "callous" by Brian D. Johnson in Maclean's, 22 February 1993
  • "a good sport" by Roger Ebert in his revisited review, 30 January 2005 (Larry goes unmentioned in the original) and
  • "rather dorky" by Maolsheachlann at Irish Papist, 6 August 2012.

    Mostly, from what I've seen, people don't much like Larry. And, he certainly isn't a great catch for Nancy, even if she might just be "the local sexpot" according to John Simon, writing in National Review, 12 April 1993. I was nicer (than others have been) before, when I called Larry both "possibly more genuine than Phil used to be" and "horribly creepy and offputting." Yes, that's me being nice. I like Larry.

    And, I also wrote: "Nancy’s single, she’s attractive. Why wouldn’t he try hooking up with her there at the bar?"

    But, then we get into what might be a narrative issue with "pairing the spares" even as we get a thematic echo of early-loop Phil in Larry.

    TV Tropes explains "Pairing the Spares" this way:

    Charlie has an unrequited crush on Alice; meanwhile, Doris has been desperately trying to win over Bob's affections. However, Alice and Bob are the ones who ultimately end up getting together.

    When Alice and Bob finally go from Official Couple to actual couple, Charlie and Doris are left in the cold. Still, both of them have experienced the pain of heartbreak and unrequited love — so why not hook them up together? They may not have any initial attraction to each other, but they can always hang out and reminisce about their similar failed romances, and somewhere along the way, they might just find mutual love with each other like their former partners have.

    While it's nice to see Charlie and Doris get a happy ending of their own, this device can very easily reek of red string puppetry and make viewers suspect that the creator just paired them off to permanently get them out of the main couple's way.

    Arguably, there's more to Larry and Nancy than simply pairing off characters that can be paired off. And, yes, it's amusing to see Larry fail where Phil succeeded so easily. But, that amusement might hide a bigger point. Larry here is like an echo of what Phil was before... Rather than repeat myself, I will, well, repeat myself; here's what I said before:

    Larry and Nancy are just two lonely people trying desperately (Larry more than Nancy, I’d say) to find a connection with someone. At this point Phil’s changed the way we look at people connecting; he’s manipulated circumstance to perfect and then mangle his relationship with Rita. He’s manipulated his way into a night with Nancy. And, for a while there, everything he did was so shallow that seeing him save lives and help people—not to mention deal with mortality in a way he hasn’t had to deal with it in a very long time—is not only a tonal difference in the film but a potentially jarring difference in our experience of it. So, seeing Larry and Nancy fumbling at getting together (or avoiding it) is both a welcome intrusion—a little normalcy for a change—and, now that I’ve noticed that is has got nothing to do with Phil, a meaningful little moment. Phil’s journey has been unusual. Sure, it works as a metaphor for normal life in its ways, but it’s certainly not normal. Here, in this brief exchange between Larry and Nancy we witness something that doesn’t fit the film. On one level, it’s just a chance to see familiar characters one more time and lead up to the revelation of Phil on stage at the party. But, on another level, it echoes the original scene in the bar way back on Day 1, Larry in his “foxy” sweater, Phil casually suggesting he’s going to go read Hustler. Before, the trio (with requisite shot of the bartender shaking his head of course) was Phil at the bar, Rita and Larry approaching to maybe get him to go to the party. Now, it’s Larry and Nancy at the bar, Rita doing the approaching.

    That wedding portrait on the wall at the bar is framed between Larry and Nancy now. Outside the plot of the film, outside the story of Phil Connors, this scene then plays as a sort of beginning to a new story, that of Larry and Nancy. Now, I don’t think these two characters are going to get together, especially after Larry spends the night with that Old Lady and then heads back to Pittsburgh. But, you could see this scene, like the “sweet vermouth” scene as the start of the process for a new relationship. This is how reality plays. Little steps, conversations that might not work quite right. We can’t always know just what to say. Larry, like us and unlike Phil, does not have the benefit of a repeating day to fix his approach; he’s just got his own desperation and a seeming inability to quite see his own faults… in reality, those two can get you pretty far, I suppose. In Punxsutawney, PA, February 2nd, 1993... Nancy knows who Phil Connors is—probably saw his big speech that morning—and she wants to buy a Phil Connors who didn’t sit next to her in Mrs. Walsh’s 12th grade English class. So, Larry’s got his work cut out for him, and he’s probably just going to have to find a bar in Pittsburgh on February 3rd so he can try again with another Nancy. He’ll still be a smartass, he’ll still be just a cameraman. But, we can hope.

    Or maybe Larry’s hopeless.

    There is hope for Larry. Jonathan Romney writes--regarding Phil and one lesson we can take from Groundhog Day--in New Statesman & Society, 7 May 1993: "And that's where the film ends up, in a perfect have-your-cake-and-eat-it male fantasy. Yes guys, even a repellant jerk can get off with Andie MacDowell in 24 hours flat." And, that "repellant jerk" managed with Nancy as well. Now, maybe it's Larry's turn...

    Or maybe it shouldn't be. More of me:

    The usual experience of the film is that Phil’s “reward” for making himself a better man is that he gets to be with Rita. It makes for a nice fairy tale. While I am contrarian a bit regarding that take on the story, I think the need for human companionship is universal. Phil’s problem was that he hadn’t been looking for companionship. He’d been looking for one-night stands. But, yeah, he’s grown up by the end of the story. Now, Larry just has to figure out how to follow suit, and he has to do it in real time, day in, day out. If he can get past his insecurities, maybe he’s got a shot.

    I’d like to believe so, anyway. It’s a nice thought, that any of us can find companionship, in a friend, in a lover, however it may come.

    Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to get past my insecurities.

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