Monday, March 17, 2014

do you have kids?

Larry only says around 330 words in Groundhog Day but I've seen comments from people online who love the character and who hate the character.

Not a lot of lines. Not a lot there to go by in trying to figure out who Larry is. Even less to go by to answer a very specific question, one Phil asks Larry late in the film: does Larry have kids?

On the morning Phil brings pastries and coffee, he says to Larry, "We never talk. Do you have kids?" Last night my daughter basically challenged me to answer that question. So, the first thing to do is figure out...

What do we know about Larry?

Larry works as a cameraman for a local station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked, presumably as a cameraman, in San Diego for at least five years--playing on the math, he could have covered "the swallows returning to Capistrano six years in a row" if he lived there for five years if the swallows were the very first and the very last thing he covered. Chris Elliott was born in 1960, making him 32 at the time of filming (actually having his 32nd birthday either at the tail end of or just after production, since he was born in May). So, let's assume Larry is also 32 years old.

He makes a living as a cameraman for a local channel, so he is not making a lot of money. If he's single, he's doing well enough, I suppose. If he's married, or has kids, let's hope his wife is employed. See, "People think filming is fun and glamorous, but it's very rarely either," TV cameraman Joel Shippey says. "You have to be very sure you want to do it because it involves years of long hours, challenging conditions and low pay" (Tims, 2013, March 12). The thing is, I don't imagine moving from San Diego to Pittsburgh was an upward move for Larry. At best, it was a lateral move, but why move to Pittsburgh?

A couple theories in passing: 1) While working in San Diego he met his future wife, but she had a career that was taking her to Pittsburgh. Maybe she worked in news also, but she was the onscreen talent... and maybe things didn't end well between them, she always thought her job was more important than his was; that's why he doesn't like Phil's prima donna tendencies. Phil reminds him of his ex-wife. 2) Maybe Larry was married in San Diego, and maybe his wife died and he just needed a change of scenery to deal with his grief.

Of course, the existence of a wife (or even just a girlfriend) does not necessitate the existence of kids. But, maybe Larry is such a pathetically desperate clinger on when he's trying to hook up with Nancy because he really just wants to find his kids a new mother.

What does the screenplay tell us about Larry?

Actually, the original never describes Larry that I can see. But, in his notes, Rubin says of Larry:

I had done enough studio television work in Chicago to recognize a certain kind of cameraman character. He is an old, overweight, jaded, lazy, put-out, union guy. That was my Larry. He just wants to be told what to do and hopes that it doesn’t involve moving.

The character of Larry never had much of a part, and I think Harold did the best he could to take what little there was and make it at least as funny as possible. If Phil had been cast as a young man, perhaps the old union guy character would have still worked. Instead he cast someone who would fit better with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. He gave the character some petty territorial behavior and a lovable loser quality, which Chris Elliott did a great job playing.

In Ramis' second revision, some of what would be Larry's lines--like the reference to working in San Diego--are Hawley's lines. Gil Hawley gets no description except his title: "Executive Producer of the Action News." He covered Capistrano ten years in a row, by the way. Larry, once he shows up on page 8, is described only as "the union cameraman and techie."

So, since Larry is not the "old, overweight, jaded, lazy, put-out, union guy," who is he?

He's territorial about his horn, for one thing--"Nobody honks this horn but me. Okay pal?" He tries to fix the van or at least claims to do so when it won't start. I include the possibility that he only claimed as much because if he knew what he was doing, I would guess he would see the distributor cap was gone and there would be no "working on it." Of course, it's Rita who says Larry's working on it. Working on it may just have meant he went in search of a distributor cap. And, that search might be fruitless; in the second revision of the screenplay, Larry interrupts the sequence I call date night to tell Rita:

I don't believe it. Someone bought every distributor cap in this town. We're going to be stuck here all night. (Ramis, 1992, January 7, p. 68)

So, even if Larry knew what he was doing, Phil could easily have kept him from being able to do it. I am willing to give Larry the benefit of the doubt and say he could fix the van if it came to that. So, he's good with cars, he's good with camera equipment...

A good cameraman needs to possess the artistic eye of a director, as well as a scientific understanding of the technology and conditions. It's also essential to love people. Whereas many careers in the creative arts involve working alone, a cameraman has to operate as a team with its attendant stresses and compromises. "You may be stuck with 20 people in a desert for two months, so it's vital to be able to get on with them," Shippey says. (Tims, 2013, March 12)

A cameraman should be a people person, then. We don't get to see Larry interact with too many people, just Rita and Phil and Nancy... that last one might be our best gauge for who Larry is as a person.

I've said before that Larry in that bar scene with Nancy is essentially like pre-loop Phil, you know a phallic narcissist in need of a conquest. But, he's not as smooth as Phil. When he offers to show Nancy the inside of the van, it comes across just a little too creepy. In a blog entry about Larry from a long time ago, Day 32, I described him in the scene with Nancy as "at once possibly more genuine than Phil used to be and horribly creepy and offputting… and you can’t help but like him anyway, at least a little bit... I can’t help but see Larry as what he is, one more human trying to get by."

Structurally, in terms of the film, sure Larry serves as a lesser version of Phil now that Phil has become someone better. But, as a character, as a person, I think Larry is better than that. Keep in mind, this is on the same day he was "touched" by Phil's speech and was willing to let Phil know as much. Larry is willing, at least some of the time, to share his feelings. He's already ahead of early-loop Phil. Plus, he might be a little drunk.

Also, I just realized--this scene just happened in today's viewing--he paid for his drink(s) as he went rather than set up a tab. Does this tell us that Larry likes to be ready to leave at any moment? That would fit with the potential of his work as a cameraman. One day he might be in Punxsutawney, the next he might down in the humid swamps of Louisiana, and he would always be on call, so he would not have much of a life.

But, does he have kids? That's the question before us today. If he does, I think he might be a good father, when he's around. But, he might not be around much.

Does he have them? Did you expect a definitive answer?

I choose to believe Larry has kids and he does his best to take care of them. But, I might be projecting a little.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to be as open as Larry is, just not as creepy.

P.S. For the record, here are all of Larry's lines:

Yeah, that would be the Home Shopping Network.

I don’t understand what’s wrong with the Groundhog Festival. You know, when I worked in San Diego, I covered the swallows returning to Capistrano six years in a row.

Oh, prima donnas.

Did he actually call himself “the talent”?

Prima donnas.

Boy, take a look at this.

I don’t know, Phil. Perhaps it’s that giant blizzard we’re not supposed to get.

Hey, hey, hey, no no no. Nobody honks this horn but me. Okay pal?

That’s so funny, Phil.

If you need any help with the other cheek, let me know. I’m right here.

Rita. Rita.

Hey!

What’s that all about?

Prima donnas.

You guys ready? We better get going if we’re gonna stay ahead of the weather.

Are you guys ready? We better get going if we’re going to stay ahead of the weather.

Yeah, there’s a lot of things really wrong with Phil.

I can probably think of a couple of reasons. Pervert.

This oughta be good.

What the hell is he doing?

He might be okay… Well, no, probably not now.

He was a really great guy. I really really liked him a lot.

You ready? We better get going if we’re gonna stay ahead of the weather. What’s that?

Yeah. Thanks, Phil.

Thanks, Phil. Raspberry. Great.

Yeah, let’s go for it.

Did you know he could ice sculpt?

Man, you touched me.

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?

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

Rita, hi.

Rita, this is Nancy.

Nancy, Rita. We were just gonna go to the party. You gonna go?

Great.

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