February 13: Groundhog Day

Groundhog DayOkay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today. The National Weather Service is calling for a “big blizzard thing!” But you know, there’s another reason why today is especially exciting. That’s right, woodchuck-chuckers – it’s…the 21st anniversary of the release of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite films. It’s a near perfect comedy, without a single wasted line. In the words of Roger Ebert, “Groundhog Day is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.”

As most people, even those who haven’t seen the movie, know Groundhog Day is the story of Phil Connors (Bill Murray in perhaps his best performance), a misanthropic weatherman who goes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on the Groundhog Day celebration. However, when Phil wakes up the next morning, it’s still February 2; and it’s February 2 the next morning and the morning after and the morning after and the morning…

At first Phil is confused, but as he begins to realize that he’s become stuck in a loop he decides to indulge in a few light consequence free vices: He steals money from an armored car, seduces local women, enjoys particularly fatty breakfasts (seen above) and even commits suicide a few times. However, when he tires of all of these Earthly delights, Phil begins a path towards enlightenment (partially inspired by his crush on his producer, played by Andie MacDowell) and towards the film’s end he’s timing his day so that he can help take care of all the town’s problems.

It’s all very funny, but it’s also a very smart script that plays with existentialist themes (At a bar, Phil ponders “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and everything that you did was the same, and nothing mattered?” to which a barfly responds “That about sums it up for me.”) and religious theory (Phil tries to explain his strange fate to Rita, saying that he’s perhaps become a god. “Maybe God has just been around a long time and knows everything.”). It’s no wonder that when the Writers Guild of America listed the 101 greatest screenplays of all time in 2005, Groundhog Day was named cinema’s 27th greatest script.

In his excellent essay on the film, part of his “Great Movies” series, Ebert notes that while he enjoyed Groundhog Day when it was first released, he only truly appreciated it upon repeat viewings as the years went by. This was true for many film critics and experts. Although the movie was a box office success and well received by the critics, it’s only recently gained a reputation as a classic film. In a special issue looking at the best films of the 1990s, the magazine Total Film named Groundhog Day 1993’s best film, beating stiff competition like Jurassic Park, The Piano and Schindler’s List. In 2009, the New York Times asked American literary theorist Stanley Fish to name the ten greatest American movies ever made, Groundhog Day was one of only two films made after 1960 that Fish included.

For a final thought on Groundhog Day, let’s turn to legendary composer Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim once considered adapting the film into a musical, a perfect opportunity to play with repetition and variations on themes. However when Sondheim was asked in 2008 if he was still working on Groundhog Day, he explained that the project had been scrapped as “to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved.”

If you feel like watching Groundhog Day tonight, might I suggest you enjoy a drink named for another rodent? The Golden Gopher is a delicious combination of brandy and crème de cacao. It’s a classic cocktail with unknown origins; however, I think there’s a possibility that the cocktail might be from Los Angeles’ Golden Gopher bar. The bar has a liquor license that goes back to 1905, so I think there’s a good chance it might have created this tasty cocktail.

Golden Gopher

  • 1 1/2 ounces Brandy
  • 1 1/2 ounces Crème de Cacao

Stir with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: We get VD. Hmm, that sounded better in my head.

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