Murray is perhaps at his comedic best here. He’s not as loose and unhinged as his other roles, and I’m not sure he can afford to be. The premise is so locked in that he’s not given the same kind of unbridled freedom. And that’s a good thing.
Where Groundhog Day falters is in its ending. While Phil has spent decades with Rita, actually falling in love with her, she’s only known him for a few hours total each time. He says he loves her, yet she doesn’t bat an eye when returning the sentiment. Phil has developed into an ideal soulmate for her over the course of 30 years, but the parameters of the story only have Rita developing her character over the course of a few hours—most of which are spent with Phil’s popularity and unrealistic talents rubbed in her face. He’s admittedly changed, but her basis for returning that love can’t possibly rely on her knowing what the audience knows since she has no knowledge of the time loop.
On the outside, director and co-writer Harold Ramis seems to have crafted a deep film, but perhaps Groundhog Day isn’t quite rooted in the level of spirituality it seems like it is, and that bleeds through in the end. Rather than showing Phil get the girl, lock, stock and barrel, the story should have resolved at the beginning stages of their relationship. A new beginning for Phil, if you will. Instead, he gets rewarded with her agreeing to hook up with him after all—a shallow conclusion which also makes no sense to what we’ve learned about her character either. The curse finally seems to end not because he’s changed, but because the pair has a sexual encounter. It’s a flippant resolution to a thought-provoking journey.
Despite the disappointing ending, Groundhog Day has a lot of fun exploring the premise in its entirety. You can truly see the blessing and the curse of the time loop scenario. There’s a sort of magical quality to the movie, unlike other similar stories that depict the main character’s struggle with only the same dark despair. But comedy and depth are never competing here, instead serving as irony for one another. While Phil does become depressed, we know the reality is that he won’t ever die, which alleviates the fear of consequence from the audience, allowing us to easily go along for the ride, curious how Phil will take advantage of his situation and how, if ever, he will get out of it.