Until this past summer, I had never seen the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis, and starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. I know, right? Where have I been, living under a rock?? Not exactly. I was 5 years old when the film came out, and I was living in my parents’ apartment in Manhattan, where we did not have a TV, so entertainment came in the form of reading quietly, arguing less quietly around the dinner table, and the occasional outing to the Metropolitan Opera House. So, yeah. I’m a fucking snob, a New Yorker, and a feminazi libtard, and I’m here to ruin Groundhog Day for you — or at least, I’m going to try my best.
1993 was a while ago. Hair was big, greed was good, and women were a novelty in the workplace. Many of my favorite films from that time (watched at friends’ houses, of course) have, in general, not aged as well as their stars. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, for example, at which I recall laughing my 11-year-old ass off, now comes off despicably trans-phobic and just seriously unfunny. Teen movies that taught me what to expect from high school, like She’s All That, have been skewered for making two hours of entertainment out of predictable sexist tropes like jocks trying to deflower virgins for clout, and nerdy girls who just need to take off their glasses to become hot enough to be loved. But Groundhog Day remains, to this day, a frequent topper of lists — it’s a “classic.”
And it is classic. It’s classic the same way that workplace sexual harassment is classic. The same way that millions of women’s #MeToo stories are classic.
I know it hurts to hear, but Groundhog Day is sexist as shit.
On Wikipedia, Groundhog Day is synopsized like this: “A cynical TV weatherman (Bill Murray) finds himself reliving the same day over and over again when he goes on location to the small town of Punxsutawney to film a report about their annual Groundhog Day.”
An equally accurate synopsis goes like this: “An idealistic young TV producer (Andie MacDowell) finds herself stuck in a time loop on location in the small town of Punxsutawney, where her soulless predatory coworker (Bill Murray) sexually harasses her over and over again until she finally falls in love with him.”
The sexism in Groundhog Day runs the gamut from overt to covert.
On the covert side, it’s evident in the fact that Andie MacDowell gets zero opportunities to shine as a comedic actress. The film is well-written, well directed, and full of good jokes — but Andie MacDowell gets none of the punchlines. Her role in the movie is to set up Bill Murray’s jokes, to deflect his come-ons with grace, and to serve as a vehicle and then ultimately a prize for his redemption story. It’s a thankless job, but she does it with a smile on her beautiful face, because it’s 1993, and she’s lucky to be here. For a female actor at that time, proximity to comedy was the best she could hope for. It’s really a sad waste of talent, because Andie MacDowell is fucking hilarious. (For proof, watch Ready or Not, a 2019 horror/comedy. She’s a riot.)
On the more overt side of things, Groundhog Day is full of blatant sexism, disguised, as it often is, as a “joke.” These “jokes” start right away: in the very first scene, Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors dismissively addresses his female co-anchor as “Hairdo.” 7 minutes and 4 seconds into the movie, he asks Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita, to “help him with his pelvic tilt,” when she asks (strictly professionally) if he needs anything. Less than 5 minutes later, he asks her, “So, did you sleep okay without me?”
“You’re incredible,” she replies, politely fielding his advances.
“Who told you?” he quips back, once again making things sexual, for no fucking reason.
Everyone agrees that Phil Connors, Bill Murray’s character, is an asshole.
The problematic thing is that this asshole has a unique advantage — he is the only person who remembers previous iterations of the same day — and he uses that knowledge to trick every attractive woman in the town into having sex with him, before setting his sights on the one woman who has better sense than to fall for his shit the first 10,000 times. The fact that the Punxutawney women he sleeps with wake up the next day with no memory of what happened doesn’t make it okay — the same way it’s not okay to have sex with someone who is blackout drunk. (Hey, guys, the fact that a woman won’t remember anything tomorrow is actually more of a reason to keep your dick to yourself.)
If you watch the movie from Rita’s perspective, as I did, because I, like Rita, am a young woman in my early 30s who studied English in college and has worked in TV production, the movie gets a lot less cute real quick. Poor Rita is new to her job, and she has a stellar attitude. She gets along with the cameraman, and tolerates the talent even though he sucks and won’t stop hitting on her, despite dismissing her at first sight as not his “type.” (They’re coworkers. No one asked him whether he wanted to bang her.) Her ideal man — whom she describes at length — bears zero resemblance to Phil Connors, whatsoever. Never mind all that! By the end of the day, she’s in his bed. They return home and to their shared workplace as a couple. Uhhh…. No. Just… No.
I saw Groundhog Day with my two pre-teen nieces, aged 11 and 14. I readily admit that we laughed multiple times, but I also found myself getting increasingly uncomfortable as I watched the movie through their young and impressionable eyes. At one point — when Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors is forcing himself on Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita, in his hotel room, after she has said numerous times that she wants to go home — I actually paused the movie to tell my nieces that if they ever found themselves in a similar situation, the appropriate reaction would be to scream, run, and report the incident to the authorities.
Let’s take a closer look at that hotel room scene:
Phil has spent significant time learning enough things about Rita to make her re-think her original (correct) assessment of his character. He has squirreled her away to his hotel room under the pretext of showing her the room, which she agrees is “nice.” But quickly things escalate.
“I don’t think we should do this,” Rita says, as he kisses her. “It’s a little fast for me. Maybe I should go.”
“You have to stay.” He replies, encircling her.
“I’m tired.” She replies, pushing him away gently. “We can see each other tomorrow.”
“Tonight. It has to be tonight,” he declares, kissing her again.
“Let’s not spoil it.” She says, laughing — the kind of tension-diffusing laughter that women use to soften a hard ‘no.’
“You know I can’t stay with you,” she says, literally wagging her finger at him. (They’re coworkers. They just met. This is her first assignment.)
“Why not?” He says. “I love you.”
This is where things take a turn.
“You love me?” she says, the weirdness of this moment dawning on her in full force. “You don’t even know me.”
“I know you.” He replies. And he’s telling the truth. He has spent countless days getting to know her; her likes and dislikes, and exploiting them, to get to this very moment.
Without even knowing the full extent of his duplicity, she is turned off.
“I can’t believe I fell for this.” She says. “This whole day has just been one long setup.”
Ding-ding-ding! Rita gets it. The whole day has been one long setup – and a longer one than she realizes. The whole movie is one long setup. Phil is on a journey to learn larger lessons about how to be less of an asshole, a redemption story that unfolds over the course of thousands of days spent on loop in Punxutawney. In order to get to tomorrow, he has to do basic good deeds, like caring for a homeless man, saving someone from choking, learning how to play piano, and carving ice sculptures. Rita — beautiful, smart, poetic, young, idealistic, professional Rita — is destined to be nothing but his reward. Rita, who has already declared that she is disgusted by this set-up. Oy.
On the last fateful night of Groundhog Day, in his hotel room, Phil tells Rita, who is getting tired,
“You can fall asleep. I promise I won’t touch you.”
Aw, that’s sweet. He is reformed! He has become a better person, the kind that doesn’t touch women while they’re asleep.
“…Much.” He adds, ruining the cherished illusion that leopards change their spots.
Listen. I get it. It was another time. Rape jokes flew back then. But they do not fly now. An entire generation of boys grew up on Groundhog Day, and countless movies like it. Those boys learned not to take no for an answer, because, after all, Bill Murray gets the girl in the end. Those boys turned into men who kept kissing girls who said they were tired and wanted to go home.
It’s 2020 now, and Groundhog Day has never been more relevant. First of all, we’re in a pandemic — and many people have made the connection that each day spent loading and unloading the dishwasher at home has started to feel like a copy of the day before. But the similarities don’t stop there.
So many women, especially in the workplace, have been stuck in a Groundhog-Day-esque loop for far too long.
No matter how much progress we make, no matter how many female writers write movies where women do deliver the punchlines, no matter how far we advance in our careers, no matter how much we accomplish — we still do not live in an equal world.
Even after the #MeToo movement, even after the conviction and cancellation of high-profile serial sex offenders and harassers, women continue to be paid less than our male counterparts; we are underrepresented in government and in corporate leadership; we are far more likely than men to be raped, sexually harassed, and assaulted. The President of the United States (though not for much longer) is a man who has bragged about grabbing women by the pussy. He is a bad person, who has gotten as far as he has because of our collective forgiveness of terrible male behavior, and our collective willingness to root for an asshole.
In other words, women keep going to bed in 2020, and waking up every day in 1993. It’s like Groundhog Day. It’s not funny. It is, however, classic.