One of my all-time favorite movies happens to come from one of my least favorite movie genres. I’m talking about the romantic comedy, Groundhog Day.
If you’ve read my novels, you may have picked up on my affection for the film. I reference it multiple times, including in this excerpt from Broken Slate:
When the swirling rhythm of a Ray Charles tune called “You Don’t Know Me” climbed up from the speakers, Sean thought of an old girlfriend. He smiled at the memory of her telling him how she’d fallen in love with that very song after watching Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell dance to it on a gazebo in the movie Groundhog Day. She once even tried to get Sean to emulate the scene with her, but he, being Sean, would have none of it. He wished now that he had at least put forth the effort.
I hold Groundhog Day in high regard not just because it magnificently showcases the comedic stylings of Bill Murray (who’s a national treasure), but also because I find the underlying love story to be very sweet and relatable. It resonates with my hopelessly romantic younger self, who never quite believed he was good or worthy enough to win over the heart of the special girl or lady he happened to be interested in at the time.
Oh, what that reserved, insecure fellow wouldn’t have given to have had several do-overs in his awkward attempts to draw the desire of a school crush or co-worker. Believe me, I’d been pairing up comedy with romance since probably the fourth grade (unintentionally, of course).
Anyway, I was thinking about the film the other day, not just because the holiday was last week, but also because another holiday is right around the corner: Valentine’s Day, which tends to go hand and hand with romantic comedies… which again, comprise one of my least favorite genres.
I think I have trouble connecting with most such films because they typically aren’t written with male audiences in mind. They understandably target women, who — generally speaking — are much more receptive to (and appreciative of) romance and romantic themes. I mean… if that weren’t true, Fabio would have never had a career.
One of those themes, that’s quite popular in the genre, is the sympathetic female character being stuck in a hurtful or dead-end relationship with the wrong guy, when she is suddenly introduced to, and slowly falls for, the right guy.
But Groundhog Day is a different type of film. Bill Murray is the wrong guy… at least for Andie MacDowell. He’s pompous. He’s rude. He’s a jerk. Conversely, she’s sweet and thoughtful. Yet, the audience, nonetheless, finds themselves invested in — and pulling for — the two of them to find love.
I’ve found over the years that I’m not at all unique, from gender perspective, in my thoughts on this film. Groundhog Day is actually among a lot of guys’ favorite romantic comedies. So is 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (though not everyone considers it a comedy), starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, which I’m also quite fond of. In fact, in a piece I wrote a few years ago, I listed it among my top 10 favorite films from 2000 to 2009.
Though there are some stark differences, “Eternal” (which I’ll refer to it as for the remainder of this newsletter) does share some key elements with Groundhog Day… and I’m not just talking about memorable snow scenes. In both movies, the lead couple shouldn’t be together. Their relationship feels as though it couldn’t possibly end up in a healthy, sustainable place.
In fact, the premise of “Eternal” is that Carrey and Winslet have already been in a relationship, and that it turned so sour and painful that the couple underwent a medical procedure to have their memories of each other erased. Yet, somehow, destiny brings them back together again — this time as strangers. And even though the audience knows the experiment of their love has already failed, and that it will likely fail again, they’re still rooting for the couple.
In both movies, there’s a repetitive, perseverance construct going on, in which the man is trying to pound a square peg through a round hole in hopes of making things work.
This theme is also present in 2001’s The Mexican, starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. It’s another movie I really like.
Perhaps the most memorable quote from The Mexican comes from a couple different characters, at different parts of the movie, who ask: “When two people love each other - Really... Love each other - but they just can't get it together, when do you get to that point where enough is enough?”
The right answer, as it turns out in the story, is “Never.”
Even my all-time favorite television love story plays off the angle, to some extent. I’m talking about Desmond and Penny on Lost. Fans of the show may remember that the two’s unlikely romance was derailed by Desmond’s crippling sense of unworthiness (stoked by Penny’s wealthy father). It was that perception of dishonor, and his exhaustive efforts to elevate his stature by winning a yacht race around the world, that got him stranded on the island, and separated from her for years.
I think guys, in particular, are drawn to this formula because so many of us naturally see ourselves as highly flawed, and not particularly deserving of good romantic fortune. And we’d like to believe, even when something isn’t a perfect or clean fit, that we can duct-tape a few things together, find a way to prove our worth, and ultimately justify that fortune.
Anyway, that’s my theory. Take it for what it’s worth. And just between you and me, you might see this theme turn up in the next Sean Coleman Thriller (which I’m wrapping up the final draft for right now).
Are you a dude? Do you have a favorite romantic comedy that I didn’t mention? Let me know what it is (though I can’t promise I won’t make fun of you if it’s something with Meg Ryan).
Obligatory Dog Shot
For those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, composer John Williams was widely recognized as the master of original film scores. Like everyone else, I loved his iconic work for franchises like Jaws, Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In the 90s, I felt similarly about Trevor Jones. He’d been producing music for quite a while before then, but it was his work for The Last of the Mohicans that I couldn’t stop listening to. I also really liked James Horner, mostly for Braveheart, Glory, and Titanic.
More recently, I’ve become a fan of Michael Giacchino (multiple seasons of Lost and the latest film reboot of Star Trek), and Max Richter, whose work for HBO’s The Leftovers is absolutely heart-wrenching.
The latter is today’s featured vinyl, and if you’re fan of film scores or soulful orchestrated music, I highly recommend you check this one out. The strings on “The Departure Suite” get me every time.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!