The American Film Institute ranks “It’s a Wonderful Life” as the most inspirational movie ever made. I disagree, as no other movie will revitalize and reinvigorate you with a new zest for life and all its wonders quite like Groundhog Day. Directed by Harold Ramis and co-written by Danny Rubin, the 1993 comedy staple is a masterfully crafted bastion of storytelling, a miraculous achievement that equally lampoons and embraces humanity’s capacity for good.
And it all happens in a day! Or rather, Bill Murray’s hapless weatherman Phil is caught in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over, where everyone else around him is completely oblivious they’re in a perpetual state of deja vu deja vu. Phil goes through what pretty much every one of us would do if we found ourselves essentially immortal in an unending, infinite time loop: eat and drink a lot, rob an armored truck, commit suicide every way imaginable and then eventually learn to read French poetry, play piano and sculpt masterpieces out of blocks of ice.
Murray, an actor whose defining trait is sarcasm, surprisingly is a perfect choice to bring Phil to life. Even when Phil realizes that happiness comes from improving oneself and helping others, he still has a little penchant of sass, a little sliver of a sardonic streak. It’s brilliant writing and an exceptional understanding of humanity, a unique point of view that one can still change themselves for the better and still be exactly who they are.
What’s even more outstanding is that the film allows the supporting cast to develop and evolve, despite living the same day over and over. Phil gradually breaks down Rita’s armor, revealing her more intimate desires, dreams and weaknesses. Even when he learns everything about her, Phil ultimately knows nothing about her, and it’s only until when he stops viewing her as an object to desire does she begin to notice him.
The film is marvelously funny too, but it isn’t so much an achievement in comedy as it is a triumph in experimental and morality-driven storytelling. It’s a fully-realized vision, a philosophical film that isn’t preachy, and a comedy film that isn’t just a collection of gags. It’s a timeless classic, a wonderful film to return to time and time and time again.