Phil Connors (Murray) is a jaded Pittsburgh weatherman who is sent to Punxatawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration and the local groundhog "celebrity" Punxatawney Phil. Connors, feeling he is generally too sophisticated for the assignment, grudgingly completes his report and attempts to rush out of town and return to Pittsburgh only to find himself caught in a snowstorm that he had predicted, on air, would miss the area. As a result he ends up stuck in Punxatawney for another night.
When Phil wakes up the next morning he immediately feels a sense of déjà vu when he, once again, wakes to the song I Got You Babe and the banal chatter of the radio announcers he had heard the day before, but dismisses it as nothing more than a mistake by the radio station. However, as soon as Phil arrives at the Groundhog Day celebration, he realizes he is living the same day over again.
Phil soon sees that his life is in a strange kind of stasis where he has to live Groundhog Day over and over again. He's not the kind of guy who comes to any fast realizations and rather than think there is a lesson to be learned by his strange situation, he instead spends countless days trying to seduce Rita (Andi McDowell), the television producer who accompanied him on the trip. When he fails in that endeavor he then goes through varying phases of behavior (much like the five stages of grief) where he tries to come to grips with the unending Groundhog Day. He does everything from kidnapping Puxatawney Phil and driving off a cliff to dropping a toaster in his bathtub only to end up in the same bed every morning and waking up to "I Got You Babe."
Murray's movie roles generally flow in the direction of playing the amiable slacker or the world-weary cynic and "Groundhog Day" puts him in the mold of the latter. He plays Connors with a biting superiority and lack of awareness to the feelings of those around him. But the best part of "Groundhog Day" is that he has landed in a town like Punxatawney where his urban-snark is mostly ignored thanks to the sweet naivete of the townspeople. Contrasting the accepting bewilderment of the small-town residents with Phil's increasingly unhinged antics is great fodder for Murray's style of comedy.
The greatest mystery in "Groundhog Day" isn't why Phil is stuck in Punxsatawney, but for how long. Director Harold Ramis has suggested a time frame of 10-40 years, so it's really up to the viewer to decide. The segments that are repeated showing Connors interacting with the same people over and over again give a great impression of the futility Phil feels at trying to force certain outcomes (usually involving the seduction of Rita) and his manic frustration is hilarious. There is the inevitable progression in Phil's behavior toward something more noble than his earlier selfishness, but it's a slow one. Murray is as his cantankerous best through most of the film and the humor comes from watching him try to make sense of things in his self centered way. The heart of the movie mostly rests on the optimistic shoulders of Rita. McDowell plays her sweetly, and a little innocently, but the character is never fooled by Phil's manipulations. If Rita weren't there, it would take Phil twice as long to figure out that he should be trying to be a better man.
"Groundhog Day" is the kind of movie that's all too rare these days. It relies on the cleverness of the script and the skill of the actors to sell it's incredible premise rather than the flash of the special effects to which we've become so accustomed. The storytelling is first rate, and so is the comedy. The dialog is clever and the resolution to the story has an old-fashioned kind of sentimentality that you saw before scriptwriters decided we were too cool to enjoy it anymore. It's the sort of movie making I wish we saw more of these days and a real gem to revisit when you have the chance.