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What if there were no tomorrow?

‘Groundhog Day’ celebrates 30 years; cult classic plays at local theaters

In the 1993 cult classic "Groundhog Day," Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a TV weatherman, travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in early February to cover his least favorite story of the year. When he wakes up the next day, it's Feb. 2 all over again. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Theatre)
By Jaya Flanary Digital Editor/Designer

My dad remembers seeing it in theaters. It would have been 30 years ago, 1993. I was negative 4. 

His eyes still light up when he describes the alarm clock numbers — that eerie, mega-close-up shot of the flip digits — changing in slow motion on the big screen. Sonny & Cher’s biggest hit plays. 

OK campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cold out there today… 

It’s cold out there every day…

I know “Groundhog Day” like my dad does: every word, every inflection, every classic Bill Murray pause. His shaky voice when he’s “got the moisture” on his head, his muffled words with an entire piece of cake in his mouth, his lines vibrating out of him as he does the one thing you’re not supposed to do — drive on the railroad tracks.

And I know we’re not the only ones.

photo  My dad got me a copy of the film’s script for Christmas one year. When I read it, I can point out what lines ended up changing in the final cut. (Jaya Flanary/Cascadia Daily News)  

I haven’t met anyone else whose favorite holiday is Feb. 2, or many die-hard fans — but I know they’re out there. I’m here to explain why we exist.

To start, the soundtrack is a banger. Growing up, if I heard Delbert McClinton’s “Weatherman” blasting from the TV, I ran to watch the clouds during the opening credits. To this day, when Ray Charles’ (another one of me and my dad’s favorites) ballad “You Don’t Know Me” plays, I can hear Andie MacDowell’s slaps.

Also, the cast. Murray, as usual, is a comedic magnet. But his sarcasm, distinctive facial expressions and poopy pants attitude wouldn’t shine without those around him: MacDowell’s calming and intelligent presence, Chris Elliot and his one-liners, plus appearances from Murray’s brother Brian Doyle-Murray, Stephen Tobolowsky, and the film’s director, the late — and great — Harold Ramis.

When I signed up to write this (which, let’s face it, just gave me an excuse to watch it again) a coworker asked: What makes someone want to watch such a repetitive movie over and over again?

photo  The movie, which was one of the highest-grossing films of 1993, plays at the Lincoln Theatre and Regal Barkley Village Thursday, Feb. 2. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Theatre)  

Self-torture, I guess. Murray lives the second of February an unknown number of times (there are rumors out there, but I will not spread those as fact), so maybe I need to watch it an unknown number of times, too.

But it also continues to make me laugh. It reminds me of my dad. It’s a comforting, familiar, “background noise” flick for a person who doesn’t like change — yours truly. I can throw it on while I’m cleaning or if I’m sad, or the morning after my dad sleeps over on Feb. 1 so we can start our day by Googling together whether it’s still winter or not, a tradition with roots that still confuse the hell out of me.

I’m not a big traveler, but we always wanted to go to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the big day. In our dreams, it would be the perfect vacation. We’d stay in a small bed and breakfast, enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, then head straight to the stage for the best view of the little rat.

But the reality? Gobbler’s Knob opens at 3 a.m. The typical low in Punxsutawney is in the teens with a high of 40 degrees. Other rodent lovers and fans of the cult classic have taken over the event, which, albeit fun, sounds, too, like a waking nightmare.

So we’ve never gone.

This year, however, we’re celebrating the film’s 30th anniversary by attending one of the local showings. The movie, which was one of the highest-grossing films of 1993, plays at the Lincoln Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, and at Regal Barkley Village at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5.

I finally get to see that flip clock on the big screen.

photo  After living the day over and over again, Phil finally feels hopeless enough that he attempts suicide in multiple ways — including stealing Phil the groundhog, taking him for a joy ride and driving off a cliff. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Theatre)  

And yes, I may have already watched it this year. Twice. But it never gets old. “Groundhog Day” makes us think about bad decision-making, like asking a cop for flapjacks or stealing a money bag from an armored vehicle outside a bank. It even scratches that intrusive thought itch (the toaster, the building, the car explosion) some of us may occasionally have.

But then it teaches us to be better. Phil (Murray, not the rat) eventually realizes if he has to wake up every day under that smelly-looking pink quilt, he’s not going to waste it by complaining or killing himself. He learns the ins and outs of the town, its people and their routines, then interjects himself into everything that goes wrong, from the flat tire to the kid falling, to the homeless man whose fate has been prewritten.

Phil learns piano. He falls in love. He ice sculpts. He becomes generous and patient and understanding. He accepts the long winter and his fate that comes with it. He lets go because as someone who tries to control everyone and everything, he recognizes he can’t.

And then he wakes up on Feb. 3, a day we should all feel grateful to wake up on.

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