So, we have Phil Connors, "arrogant, self-serving professional climber" in one corner, kindhearted, open Rita Hanson in the other. It's therapy, it's character growth, it's a cycle of birth and rebirth and rebirth and rebirth for Phil... what is it for Rita?
Todd May, at The New York Times writes about Phil's passion, or rather his lack thereof in the middle portion of the film. Phil demonstrates passion early in the film, May argues, and has a different sort of passion at the end of the film, but after his pursuit of Rita, there's no passion. May's explanation: "Murray's character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again. He has no expectations for anything different... He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance."
Again, I ask, what is there for Rita in the end of Phil's story? She can't remember their dates. Just yesterday, from her perspective, this jerk for whom she's responsible as producer, was ridiculing her, coming on to her, and basically bragging about heading back to his posh suite at the bed and breakfast to "read Hustler." This morning, sure, he shocked her by being deep and meaningful in his news report, and maybe she understands why another network might be interested in him now--before, she knew him only as the weatherman who made silly jokes during his reports. And then, he disappeared to run some "errands." They were supposed to be heading back to Pittsburgh, and since they didn't even try, she probably doesn't even know it would have been impossible because of the blizzard. She wanted to stick around for more Groundhog Day events, but without her onscreen "talent" her footage probably won't get used anyway even if she got Larry to carry around his camera rather than hitting on some local girl at the hotel bar.
May uses Groundhog Day as a jumping off point for a discussion about love, and I'd like to do that as well... The problem is, I'm not so sure we really see "love" as such in the film. Don't get me wrong--I think post-time loop Phil Connors is capable of love much more than pre-time loop Phil Connors ever would have been, and I think Rita has seen something worth her time in this guy she thought was just a self-centered jerk--hell, she probably spent the previous night imagining the possibility of quoting "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" to him because there is a passage that seems entirely apropos. But, then he's playing the piano on stage and she's got a thing for guys who can play an instrument. And, then something even weirder happens. It turns out townspeople like him. These are good people, these Punxsutawney folk, and they are thanking him and hugging him and one girl even kissed him over some Wrestlemania tickets--and maybe there was something about a wedding, but Rita can't be sure because everything is happening so fast, and that girl had a nice ring on her finger--yeah, it was probably a wedding. And, Phil fixed some old guy's back and saved that Inner Circle guy's life? Who is this guy?
Rita just has to figure Phil out, but keep in mind, she's the same person who hearing the world was about to end would "want to know where to put the camera." She's opportunistic just as much as she's genuinely curious. And, Phil is an enigma. An enigma worth her time. Rita wants something bigger than PBH, but imagines herself in the mountains in five years, so we can assume she doesn't want to stick to television. Does she want to get into documentaries, maybe? Feature films? This guy, with such divergent personalities, is the kind of guy she should be paying attention to if she wants to make it big. She imagines what could change him like this over night. She thinks maybe there's a movie here. Picture it: self-centered news man travels to small town America and... is he cursed? Is he forced to do as the Romans do... or as the Punxsutawneyans do? Is he being punished by God? Rita remembers when Sister Theresa talked about Job back in school. Rita likes the idea that Phil Connors was a jerk yesterday, but God and Satan got together and made a bet to weigh him as a man. Rita spent part of today trying to track Phil around town, but then she couldn't keep up, and she took to exploring on her own, trying to find locals that stood out as angels or demons, or God and the Devil themselves, sitting around watching over the contest. She remembers an old guy in a bright red hat--he could pass for either one. And, there was a homeless man that caught her eye. She wanted Larry to get footage of him, since she hadn't imagined a town like Punxsutawney to have any homeless, but Larry didn't understand what a homeless guy had to do with the day's celebrations. Still, she imagined God might appear as a homeless man, or maybe Satan would, tempting Phil to... No, the devil would be a woman; Rita hadn't met Phil until yesterday but she'd already heard stories about him making his way through the secretary pool. If this coureur de jupons was going to be tempted to do bad things, it would be a woman who did the tempting, some local woman, dressed in scarlet like the Whore of Babylon, or maybe pink to be more subtle.
But, then the timeframe was an issue. Rita's dancing with Phil and she's barely able to concentrate on him because the story in her head isn't making any sense. How could he change so drastically in one day, even if God and/or the devil made him do it? It just wasn't possible. He needed more time...
So, she brainstormed, and realized by putting God and the Devil in her script, she was already going to be making something fantastic, so why not something even weirder. What if time was repeating? What if every time Phil went back to the bed and breakfast to shower and read Hustler he instead slipped and fell and hit his head on the water spout and this marked the start of an endless loop, as he was forced to read the same Hustler before bed until he no longer had any shallow lust like he did before. And, in the morning, he'd have to go to work every day, have to do his report until he got it just right. No stupid puns, no sarcasm, just straight reporting. Then, he would have to get to know the locals; what other choice would he have? And, he'd get to know their foibles and their dreams and he'd come to appreciate them as if he'd known them forever. He'd be like de Lamartine's Parish man, "having no family, but belonging to a family that is worldwide." Or at least town-wide. He would help them out and they'd... they'd come up to him at the banquet like this and thank him for random good deeds. And, then, and only then would Phil be let out of the loop, God winning the bet because Phil had learned to be a better man than he had been before. Would there be a reward? Should there be a reward? Or should it all be about doing good for the sake of doing good? Rita liked that last idea but figured Hollywood would want something more concrete. Maybe he'd fall in love, but who would love him before? Ah, and there she had it; the Sisyphean task of bettering himself would be just the thing to earn the love of some girl. and his objet d'amour would be a good, wholesome girl, Phil's opposite in so many ways that their love would be nigh impossible, like Eloa falling in love with Satan. Then, they would end the day together, and when morning came it would be February 3rd and all would be right with the world. No, all would be righter with the world.
Still, Rita wanted to know what had actually happened to Phil. So, when he was volunteered fro the bachelor auction by... was that the waitress from that cafe? When he was put up for sale, Rita had no choice but to buy him. She needed him. She needed to solve the puzzle of Phil Connors. But, payday was next week and her rent check had just cleared and she didn't have much money, and the bids were rising faster than she expected. She pulled out her checkbook and, while she was considering simply bidding up another five dollars, she couldn't risk being outbid. Phil had to be hers. So, eyeing the balance in her checkbook and imagining how she might have to skip her morning trips to the coffee shop for a while, she took the initiative. She was Rita Hanson, future award winning film producer/writer/director, and she had to take risks.
When Phil got her out in the snow on Gobbler's Knob and started sculpting she began to regret her decision; this guy was clearly insane. His personality change was probably because he was more like Sibyl than Job. And, she's just spent her grocery money on a womanizer with a pile of snow... but then he showed it to her, and it was amazing. He might be insane but he could sculpt. And, she imagined a documentary or a subtle character piece, no more God or Satan, just a man out of his mind, a homeless man who would turn out to be one of the great artists of our time.
Still, Phil intrigued her. So, she followed along back to his place at the Cherry Street Inn and went inside with him. She liked to present herself as some wholesome girl, innocent, maybe a little naive. But, truth was, she would have gone through the secretary pool as well if there were more men in there. She hadn't been laid in weeks and it was too cold out to walk all the way back to the hotel. And, really, if this guy had been with all those girls, some more than once or so she'd heard, he might just be good in the sack. She usually made a guy wait a couple dates but what the hell? Avoir la moule qui baille. She thought this out looking at the fake fire in his room and when she turned to let him in on her decision Phil was passed out cold on the bed. He hadn't even managed to get his shirt off.
And, right then, Rita wished she'd had something stronger to drink tonight than vermouth. Maybe whiskey.
Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to see the day from everyone else's perspective, even if I have to make it all up.