We Need To Talk About That Jeep/Groundhog Day Commercial

There are so many problems here it’s hard to keep count.

Groundhog Day, most people would acknowledge, is a classic comedy of the late 20th century. Directed and cowritten, along with Danny Rubin, by Harold Ramis, Bill Murray stars as a misanthropic, egotistical weatherman laid low by having to spend anywhere from decades to centuries reliving February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA, where he’s been sent to cover the famous groundhog’s prognostications.

As is commonly known, the filming of the movie caused a rift between Ramis and Murray that lasted until just before Ramis passed away in 2014. The two reportedly clashed during production as they had different visions of how the story should play out, with Murray exhibiting difficult behavior while shooting and refusing to speak with Ramis directly on many occasions.

Thus ended one of the more fruitful and groundbreaking professional relationships in comedy for the 20 years prior. The two worked together in various capacities since they met while both at National Lampoon Radio Hour, going on to make several movies together, including many that are landmarks of the genre.

As much as Murray’s performance, Ramis’ direction and script are the elements that have made Groundhog Day so beloved. The two creators are equally regarded when it comes to the movie.

Murray hasn’t commented on the fractured friendship with his collaborator of two decades in the years since Ramis passed. So it was a little odd when the actor reprised his role of Phil Conners in a Super Bowl commercial for Jeep.

The story of how Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, conceived of the spot and navigated Murray’s famously difficult method of getting in contact is interesting, including how they secured signoff from Sony Pictures, is interesting enough. But notably missing is any mention of working with anyone associated with Ramis.

Given Ramis’ role as cocreator of the characters and story, it would seem to be only polite, even if it might not be completely necessary from a legal point of view, to have gotten the blessing of Ramis’ widow or children. Fiat Chrysler Automotive could have presumably done so relatively easily.

More problematic for me, though, is that there was no statement from Murray that he had done so. Given the place the movie holds in the history of their relationship, taking the step six years after Ramis passed away to revisit a movie he was instrumental in crafting seems like it should have been a moment to continue mending fences. Addressing the issue would have been a good move simply from a reputational point of view if nothing else.

To be fair, there may have been private communications that haven’t been discussed. But the lack of statement by Murray or anyone on his behalf is disconcerting and only makes the actor seem like he continues to hold a grudge, as if he wants to continue writing Ramis out of the narrative of the movie and its history.

It’s interesting that Murray chose this project as his first television commercial. And he certainly looks like he’s having fun in the spot, which nicely nods to the original in various ways. I just wish there were a little more self-awareness of the history it’s drawing upon as well as a bit more humility about the talent involved in crafting that history.

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