Phil’s thing, before the loop, during the loop, after the loop, is that he is attentive. On Day 2, he recognizes the banter on the radio from the day before, for example. But, even before that, he has already been paying attention. Watch Rita in front of the bluescreen, arms up, jazz hands opening and closing. What does Phil do when he steps in front of that moving truck so many days later? Arms up, jazz hands opening and closing. For whatever reason (in that instance) he’s mimicking Rita’s movements from that day she changed him (according to him).
By the way, in case there’s confusion, I don’t think it’s the radio banter that convinces him the day is repeating on that second morning; instead it’s when he looks around the room and sees his stuff in the same position not as the night before (from his perspective) but from the night previous to that one.
Phil puts thought into the things he says, the things he does. When he gets out of the van and sees the Pennsylvanian Hotel on February 1st, he doesn’t immediately whine. He looks down, take a breath, then says, rather civilly, “Rita, I can’t stay here.” And, he gives a reasonable excuse. Yes, I am suggesting that, in that moment, Larry was unjustified in calling Phil a “prima donna.”
A sidenote before moving on into the time loop: Phil sleeps on his back. Sleep Junkie tells us:
Soldier sleepers lie flat on their backs with their arms near their bodies and down to the side. This position also leads to problems with snoring which can decrease the overall quality of sleep, but overall is considered the best for pain prevention. Personality traits associated with the solder position include expecting people to perform to a higher standard, quiet and reserved.
Though Phil obviously loves attention on some level, I would say he is actually quiet and reserved, my kind of quiet and reserved. He’s a thinker. He makes a lot of eye contact, and thinks about what people are saying. Hell, even as he was just getting annoyed by Ned’s rambling on Day 1, Phil actually looks over and listens.
This, of course, helps him insult people as well. In that van ride to Punxsutawney, he looks at Rita when she speaks and mimics her mimicking the groundhog to make her look silly.
To counter this, Rita, as I think I’ve mentioned, doesn’t wait and listen to people. When she asks Phil what he’s going to do (at the bar after they’ve been stranded in Punxsutawney on Day 1), she looks disinterested in his response almost immediately and starts to get up before he makes the Hustler reference.
Day 2, Phil, as I already said above, notices it’s the same banter on the radio pretty much right away.
Not only has Phil met up with Chubby Man again and had the same basic interaction with Mrs. Lancaster again and passes the same homeless man and meets up with Ned Ryerson, he looks over at the people passing on the sidewalk (at the time, bald earmuffs guy and a woman, and window shopping nearby Pimp and his boyfriend) with alarmed familiarity.
Rita does listen on Day 3 in the Tip Top Cafe. And, she gets a bit angry when she should be more concerned. Of course, she’s probably not thinking too much as she thinks they should drive an hour and a half back to Pittsburgh before finishing the conversation.
The “neurologist” does not pay attention. Phil is a weatherman, so he (the neurologist) should maybe not scoff at the idea of a blizzard.
When Gus gives his spiel about the glass half empty or half full, Phil looks right at him, quite attentively.
(By the way, a sidenote: I only recently (not as recently as last night‘s kisses) noticed that Phil isn’t actually drinking beer along with Gus and Ralph. He’s got what looks to be coffee—probably trying to stay up all night. There are three shot glasses though, so he may have at least had a shot of something.)
By Day 4—after Phil has accepted his place in the loop—he already knows what Mrs. Lancaster is going to say to him first thing in the morning though she only said it twice and the last time was 48 hours earlier.
Second time at the Tip Top, Rita does her poetic insult bit and Phil could just ignore her but instead pays close attention to what she says, even takes the time to interpret her choice of poem.
Of course, the whole Phil Connoring process, as first used upon Nancy Taylor (“Nancy, Lincoln, Walsh”), is about Phil deliberately paying attention to a few details to use them the next day.
The robbery sequence—more of Phil’s attentiveness put to bad purposes.
Remarkably, the Groundhog Day report we see on the monitors in the van is exactly the same as that on Day 1. Outside the film, they obviously just used the same footage. Within the film, though, it means Phil can not only recall word for word but mimic even the sarcastic tone of his first report. What better way to keep Rita and Larry from suspecting anything weird is going on?
At the Tip Top, Phil listens intently to Rita’s list of traits for her “perfect guy.” Quite amusingly, he seems to really be considering each criterion separately as, for example, he stops staring off and turns to Rita to say today’s titular line: “Does he have to use the word ‘Poopy’?”.
And, then we’re into the sequence I call “date night.” It’s the Phil Connoring process writ larger than with Nancy Taylor. It’s Phil’s attentiveness put to, well, depending on how you look at it in context of the whole story, both good and bad purposes. He remembers Rita’s interests, her likes and dislikes, he memorizes French “poetry.”
(For anyone who hasn’t kept up, poetry is in quotation marks there because what Phil recites is actually from a song, not a poem (strictly speaking). Also, once again, he does not learn French.)
Since Phil has the carrot and bits of coal for the snowman the first time, it’s safe to assume, by the way, that he and Rita already built a snowman before, on the night they drank “to the groundhog” maybe—that wasn’t nearly as bad a faux pas as laughing at Rita’s original major in college.
Walking to the Cherry Street Inn on “date night,” as Rita speaks, Phil stares at her. He’s paying attention to every word.
Jeopardy!—need I say more?
(I assume Phil walked in half way through that episode that day, by the way, or he would have freaked out all those old people many questions earlier—those questions were from the Double Jeopardy segment as I noted before, so Phil should have had 30 correct responses before what we see, had he been there for the whole thing.)
The “god day” Tip Top Cafe scene is all about Phil’s ability to pay attention and remember detail, though it also demonstrates how he puts his ability to show off above what anyone else might want—he wouldn’t let Debbie and Fred have that pained conversation in the background as he brags to Rita otherwise.
Also, as far as we know, it has been a long time at this point (and at least 23 days by my original count) since Phil last heard Larry say, “We better get going if we’re gonna stay ahead of the weather.” But, he still uses that line to prove finally to Rita that he’s telling the truth.
A flaw in Phil’s attentiveness: he thinks Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” is in Poems for Every Mood when it is not.
A flaw in my usual theory that Phil doesn’t simply improve himself to impress Rita: when he hears the piano music playing over the radio at the Tip Top, he looks up toward the radio then back over his left shoulder toward where Rita was sitting that day she told him her “perfect guy” played an instrument.
As for playing that instrument, I don’t know how to rightly measure Phil’s ability to accept and retain his learning. Well, obviously, he can retain pretty well, when it comes to speech at least. If he already knew some piano basics, maybe he could take in some new stuff pretty easily.
Finally, Phil’s “errands” all come from tracking and remembering what’s been going on around town.
Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to remember everything and learn to play at least two instruments to be better than Phil.