Saturday, August 3, 2013

prima donnas

It’s day two. If I were Phil Connors, I’d be confused, and I’d probably be trying to review Groundhog Day again, and getting a little carried away with myself—did I really say I’d help my readers get a better grasp on the human condition? I might as well be calling myself “the talent.”

As Larry would say in response: “prima donnas.” I guess I am one.

But, I digress.

As I was watching the movie again—the second time in two days, the third in the past week, as I went to an outdoor screening last Saturday in Old Town Pasadena—I wanted to write a review from scratch, pretend I hadn’t tried that yesterday. I thought that would be clever. But, I don’t need to be clever just yet. I don’t need any more of a gimmick than watching the movie every day.

A few things did occur to me while watching the movie, this time. I already was thinking more about specific scenes, trying to figure out nuances I might not have seen before—the newsvan drives past the Alpine Theater where Heidi II is playing as it comes into town at the beginning of the film, for example; that’s not an important detail, but I thought it was interesting since I hadn’t noticed it before. Heidi II doesn’t necessarily exist, by the way, or it might be a German porn film, but I’ll save that for another day.

Anyway, something I had noticed but hadn’t necessarily thought about was how utterly bleak the middle of this movie is. Phil tells Rita, “I’ve come to the end of me. There's no way out now. I just want you to remember we had a beautiful day together once.” This is before he steals the groundhog and dies for the first time, before his string of suicides. In terms of the movie itself, at this point we’ve only seen a couple dozen days represented…

(Simon Gallagher, in his lengthy article from a couple years back, “Just How Many Days Does Bill Murray REALLY Spend Stuck Reliving ‘Groundhog Day’?” puts Phil’s first death on day 28 and I think I counted it as day 25 when I watched the move last week, but the number of days on screen and off—that’s a topic for its own entry (or two) in the near future)

…anyway, this is arguably about the time the film goes from act one to act two—a discussion of the exact separation between acts could be its own topic as well—and it’s where the film gives us just a cursory look into Phil’s… well, let’s call it his blue period. This being a comedy, we don’t get a lot of detail here. Bill Murray is already a pretty haggard guy, but we get him looking a little more worn out and tired. Rita says she thinks there’s “something really wrong with Phil.” Larry, to make the notion of this a little more funny and a lot less serious and tragic, agrees, “There's a lot of things really wrong with Phil.” See, that’s funny. Since the beginning of the movie, we’ve known Phil is a jerk, he’s arrogant. And, though he’s shown himself to be fairly intelligent and he implies he isn’t egocentric, well, we know better. So, yeah, there are a lot of things really wrong with Phil. But, think about what’s coming and what he’s probably already been through at this point. The series of slaps has already happened. He may or may not have seen Heidi II 100 times, which means he’s been at this a lot longer than we have seen.

(It’s “may or may not” because February 2nd was a Tuesday that year, and the marquee does specify “SAT SUN MATINEES” but that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t play the rest of the week at regular price)

If we separate out our amusement from Phil’s condition, his life has become a far more repetitive thing than it looks to be. Keep in mind, when we see a brief shot of him smashing his alarm clock, he still experiences that entire day. And, he’s stuck in a “tiny village in western Pennsylvania” where there probably is not a great variety of things to do, even if the blizzard did hit outside of town. When, Rita says, “Phil, you look terrible,” we can assume the repetition has gotten to him. And, absent a reason for his plight or a way out—much like the human condition (see what I did there)—it makes sense that he might see the “end” of him soon thereafter. His winter prediction is bitter and depressing and absent hope. “It's gonna be cold,” he says. “It's gonna be gray, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.” Even if it’s been less than a month of Groundhog Days, it would be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Cue the Cymbalta ad:

Phil cannot, of course, benefit from medication for his depression. That kind of thing just doesn’t work that fast. Hence, he’s drinking Jack Daniels straight out of the bottle while he’s sitting around watching Jeopardy at the bed and breakfast.

He’s self medicating because that’s all he can do. You know what he needed?

The internet. I mean, this is all taking place in 1993, so he can’t get on his smartphone and call up YouTube videos to entertain himself. He can’t fill up his spare time watching every single episode of every old television series available on Netflix instant. Even when he gets to the Punxsutawney library, there are limits to what they would have. There would be plenty there, I suppose; it might even have a film library by 1993, and a good selection of music—because Phil certainly has no iPod to entertain himself either, though he could have a Discman, but does Punxsutawney have a music store? With a population of 6,782 (according to the town’s sign early in the film), the place probably has one, but, well, I’m not sure how to look that up to be sure. Anyway, Phil doesn’t seem to get into the library until later. But, it occurred to me that his time would have been far less monotonous if he had access to Netflix and Hulu and YouTube and everything else we use to fill the monotonous moments of our lives these days.

Hell, he could have been blogging about his experience… except any readers that might happen upon his blog would probably be confused because a) they think he’s making shit up or b) they know he is and wonder why he started off with the story already in progress. That was one possible way for the movie to go, at one point, by the way, with no introductory sequence, just Phil Connors, already repeating. I think it works far better the way it is.

The blizzard strands him geographically, and what we see of Punxsutawney seems like an even smaller town than its population # might imply. I think it’s safe to say, Phil’s options are limited. Why else would someone watch the same German porn film 100 times?

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to finally clear away my Netflix queue.

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