I cannot explain it. I have been obsessed lately with the idea that the movie Groundhog Day needs to be remade. With Bill Murray.
There, let’s get that first detail out of the way right now before too many of you roll your eyes about 80s and 90s classics being remade with peppy new soundtracks and overloaded jokes about texting a Twitter to make it au courant. I in no way advocate for a remake starring Mark Wahlberg or Melissa McCarthy. No, we need the man back. The funniest goddamn man on this planet: Bill Murray.
With that in mind, just consider all the ways in which we could elevate a cute, schlocky early-90s comedy into one of the greatest films of all time. The plot is already there–it’s a classic tale of magic, human nature, and redemption. We just need to strip away some of the varnish, the bouncy 90s soundtrack, and all of Andie MacDowell’s vests. And Andie MacDowell, who seriously is just a terrible actress.
People, I have a vision. A grand vision about how this could be brilliant. But there are rules. And none of these rules can be broken, or my adolescence will be retroactively ruined (more than it already was).
Rule #1: It Must Star Bill Murray
The excellent news is that the plot is not reliant at all on him being middle age. As of this posting, he is 66 years old, and the story will still work just perfectly. No reason he can’t have late-in-life new love, right?
He is still pitch-perfect, devilishly handsome, and the only man who can pull of this role properly. I don’t even know why I need to lay out this argument.
Rule #2: It Cannot Feature Andie MacDowell in Any Way
Truly, Andie MacDowell is awful in the original. I found her distractingly uncharming, and there’s the whole problem that she had zero chemistry with our beloved Mr. Murray. If you don’t recall, Ms. MacDowell was the darling of early- to mid-90s romantic comedies. So she was mostly last for her box office cache, and not so much for her fit to the role.
Nope, she can’t come back. That’s a deal breaker. Not even as a cameo.
So, who should we cast? It must be someone who is age-appropriate, or I will go Godzilla on all of California. We need someone charming and a little funny.
My pick for the role of Rita is….Alfre Woodard.
She’s gorgeous, a contemporary of Bill Murray’s, can act like no one’s business, and can play a role straight or comedically. That woman has some serious talent. Plus, it’s a little cute nod to it being a reunion between the Scrooged co-stars.
Karen Allen is my runner-up, and would probably do a really excellent job. But I’m going with Ms. Woodward.
Rule #3: We Need to Change the Role of Rita
I want to blame Andie MacDowell entirely for the failure of Rita, but truthfully, there was a major problem with how the straight-woman love interest was written. She seems fine and sweet through the opening act of the movie, until she gets to Punxatauney. The more Phil gets to know Rita, the more we discover that she is a stuck-up, one-dimensional princess not worthy of his attention, nor is she inspirational enough to merit his redemption.
First, get rid of this whole French poetry fixation, which is irritatingly pretentious. Our heroine can have a different affection–maybe for animals, chess, astronomy, or any worthwhile pursuit. The problem with the French poetry idea is that not only does it make her seem truly inaccessible and incompatible with Phil or anyone else, but it also is a trope. The whole idea that a woman’s dream man is someone who loves his mother, plays an instrument, gets in snowball fights with random children, changes poopy diapers, and recites French poetry is pretty insulting to most real women. The poetry thing is obnoxious, the snowball thing is creepy, the instrument thing is oddly random, and the mother thing? Honey, trust me, you only think you want a man who loves his mother. Wait until you grow up and you’ve seen a mama’s boy in action. The poopy diaper thing almost gets a pass, except that shouldn’t be anything exceptional. Fathers should just do it. That doesn’t even belong on a special list.
Let’s make a new list for Rita. When Phil asks what is the perfect man for her, here are some of the things she names: He is good with animals, is gainfully employed, makes her laugh, can recite every line of The Godfather, can cook a mean pot of chili, never clips his toenails outside of the bathroom, donates his time to charities, and knows how to grow his own flowers and vegetables. Also, he hates Andie MacDowell.
At the bar, she doesn’t drink sweet vermouth with a twist, nor does she drink to world peace. She drinks a Tom Collins and toasts to David Bowie. And he doesn’t get rejected for not toasting to the proper tribute, because that was ridiculous.
But most of all, we have to change her character arc. She is supposed to be a witness to a transformative otherworldly, magical event, and in the original, it doesn’t change her at all, save for getting her to fall in love with Phil in a single day. Can’t we give her a little more depth? Rita needs to awaken from her own slumber. She needs to realize that this shitty television producer job isn’t where she should be in life. She and Phil can have it all, and that isn’t in Punxatauney.
Rule #4: This Movie Has to Get Dark
I get why the director of the original wanted to keep things bouncy and light. It played well in theaters as a family film. But, really, this is a dark story. Being trapped in a single day in perpetuity is terrifying and exhilarating all at once. This whole story is the exploration of human nature, and deserves better than a clarinet soundtrack and warbling crooners telling the audience that “you don’t know me”. We need to go dark with this story. Let’s get visceral with this experience, and yet keep it funny. Comedy is still paramount.
Let’s get Sophia Coppola or Wes Andersen on this. Maybe the Coen Brothers. Phil needs to be sitting around, smoking a hookah, listening to some dark music, scarfing donuts, and reflecting on how his life has passed him by. He can still go “order flapjacks” with some of the guys from the bowling alley, but he should stew about the moment a little more. He can still try to boink Nancy and dress like Bronco, but he needs to give it some context. He needs to realize how pointless it is to pursue Nancy and…French maid girl…before he ever even gets them into bed. This movie should be a darkly funny psychological crisis.
Less time wooing Rita. More time contemplating what it all means. More time wondering if he has lost his mind and believing that maybe he’s really catatonic somewhere. He needs to laugh at the concepts of sanity, life, and happiness.
Let’s see him try to test the bounds of his little one-day snow globe. For instance, what exactly happens at 5am if he stays awake? Can he make any small lasting changes?
Yes, he can still win the love of Rita and redeem himself at the end of the movie, but it can’t be just because he’s helped some townsfolk and plays a horribly rockabilly piano set. It has to be because he’s moved beyond the crisis and come to some kind of enlightenment.
Side Note: Can you believe that in this one tiny town, three different people would have allegedly died on that day?–The falling kid breaks his neck, the mayor chokes to death, and the poor homeless man passes away naturally. And there’s a good chance that drunk bowling alley guys would’ve died trying to drive home, too. That’s a lot of carnage in a single day for a tiny town.
Anyway, add a killer soundtrack and now we’re on to something. Here are a few I would suggest:
“Every Time the Sun Comes Up” -Sharon Van Etten
“Human Behavior” -Bjork
“Season of the Witch” -Donovan
I’m telling you, there is something real here. If this is done right, this could be one of the most brilliant movies ever made. Take this, Hollywood. Run with it. Make the dream real.