Many of us remember the movies, TV shows, novels, comic books, or video games that helped make us fans of a particular genre. They’re often profound moments in our lives, sparking a passion that inspires us to explore a world we didn’t know existed.
Movie buffs have that one movie that made them a fan of film.
Hardcore gamers have that one game that helped make them a fan of video games.
Comic book fanboys have that one comic that inspired them to dress up in elaborate costumes at comic conventions.
For romance fans, it’s no different. There’s often something that sparks our interest and inspires us to explore love, lust, and everything in between. Sometimes, it’s a book. Sometimes, it’s a personal moment. For me, it was a movie. Since today is February 2nd, I think most can already guess which movie I’m talking about.
That’s right. One of the catalysts that inspired my love of romance was the classic Bill Murray movie, “Groundhog Day.” While I won’t say it’s the sole reason for me becoming a romantic, seeing this movie marked a turning point for me. It marked the first time I enjoyed a movie because of its romantic sub-plot and not in spite of it. While it wouldn’t be the last, its impact is still special.
To appreciate that impact, I need to get a little personal about when I saw this movie and how it affected me. I didn’t see this movie when it was out in theaters. At the time, I was still somewhat of a kid. I say somewhat because I was at that point of childhood where people stop treating you like a baby and start preparing you for adulthood.
That also happens to be the time when your media consumption starts to diversify. It’s no longer cartoons and Disney movies. You finally start to watch other TV shows and movies with more mature themes. You don’t make the leap to R-rated, but you’re at a point where singing animals and distressed princesses just aren’t cutting it anymore.
It’s here where I need to give credit and thanks to my awesome mother, which I’ve done before. While my father helped me take sports more seriously, my mother let me watch some more serious TV shows and movies with her. Again, it was nothing too extreme. It was mostly prime-time shows like “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons.”
While those shows had some appeal to me, they didn’t have too great an impact. Then, one fateful day, I sat down to watch “Groundhog Day” with her. My mom loved the movie and I was already a fan of Bill Murray after “Ghostbusters.” It was just a perfect confluence of circumstances that went onto have a profound impact, even by Bill Murray standards.
For the first time in my life, I watched a movie where the love story didn’t follow the typical Disney formula. More importantly, it was a love story that didn’t bore or disinterest me. I found myself genuinely intrigued by Phil Connors’ adventures in his time loop and how Rita ended up being the key to helping him escape.
I watched as this eccentric character that only Bill Murray could play go from an egotistical asshole to someone capable of genuine love. I’d never seen that kind of character evolution before. On top of that, I’d never seen a female character as likable and fun as Rita before.
She wasn’t just some generic love interest.
She wasn’t just there to give Phil an emotional sub-plot.
She was a well-developed, complex character who I could root for as much as Phil in the end.
For a kid my age, this was an incredible concept that I found myself appreciating more than most. I had friends and relatives my age who liked the movie too, but not in the same way I did. They appreciated the comedy and the always-endearing charisma that is Bill Murray, but the romance was usually secondary. For me, it helped make the movie special on a very personal level.
After seeing “Groundhog Day” and its unique approach to romance, I started to appreciate romantic sub-plots in other mediums. I paid more attention to it in the comics I read. I followed it more closely in the cartoons and TV shows I watched. In time, my interest in romance evolved into a full-blown passion. For that, I’ll always be thankful to this movie, my mother, and Bill Murray.
Even today, I can appreciate the unique way “Groundhog Day” went about telling a love story. Even by modern standards, its brand of romance holds up very well. It avoids many of the standard tropes that often plague modern romance in media.
In the beginning, Phil isn’t romantically interested in Rita. She isn’t interested in him, either. There’s no elaborate plot involving love-at-first-sight or friends-becoming-lovers. Instead, “Groundhog Day” takes a more refined approach. It starts with Phil becoming more interested in Rita, but not entirely in a romantic sense. That comes later and the love is more genuine because of it.
It doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, there’s a brief montage of all the ways Phil fails to win Rita’s love. Given the constraints of the time loop, that’s understandable. However, it’s still heartbreaking for Phil because you get the sense that he wants to love someone. He’s all alone in this temporal purgatory. His ego is no longer enough.
Over the course of the movie, Phil evolves into the kind of person that Rita falls in love with. Towards the end, she begins pursuing him and much as he pursues her. It’s not just about the man proving his worth to a woman, as is often the case in every movie featuring a princess. Their love only becomes real when they both pursue each other.
Even by modern standards, which have become a lot less forgiving, the romance in “Groundhog Day” is remarkably balanced. By the end, you get the sense that Phil and Rita genuinely want to be together for all the right reasons. Being trapped in that time loop made Phil a better person. That person is someone Rita fell in love with. Even as a kid, I thought that was incredibly sweet.
I still remember how much I smiled when I saw that last scene in the movie with Phil and Rita venturing out into the snow together. Only a handful of movies have ever made me smile like that since and “Groundhog Day” was the first to do it through romance. On top of the many other accolades this movie has received over the years, it succeeded on a very personal level with me.
I’ll never know for sure if I would’ve become a romance fan I am today if I hadn’t seen “Groundhog Day.” I tend to believe that I’m the kind of person who would gravitate towards it eventually. However, I don’t doubt for a second that this movie helped shape me into the romantic I am today. For that reason, Groundhog Day, both the holiday and the movie, will hold a special place in my heart.
Thank you, Bill Murray.
Thank you, Andie MacDowell.
Thank you, Harold Ramis.
Thank you, Mom.
Finally, to everyone out there, regardless of whether you’re a romance fan or haven’t seen the movie, Happy Groundhog Day!