I’ve been watching Harold Ramis’ classic Groundhog Day at least once a year, since I was introduced to it in my film studies class in university. After so many viewings, you’d think all the nuances and easter eggs would have been discovered. But here’s one that I never noticed before watching the movie today: the perfect use of Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me” during the date scene.
Phil (Bill Murray), having realized he can use his sisyphean predicament to his advantage, sabotages the van so he can go on many, many dates with Rita. His plan is to build the perfect day for her, to win her over in one amazing evening. He’s calculating in his approach, making a mental list of her likes and dislikes – “no white chocolate, no fudge”. But even when he’s got every word perfected, every choice in line with Rita’s exact desires, it only results in her being creeped out by how well he knows her, having only (from her perspective) spent a day knowing each other. “Did you call my friends and ask them what I like and don’t like?”
The song “You Don’t Know Me” underscores the scene perfectly, first as a romantic theme, bereft of any significant meaning. Just a nice tune to set the mood as Phil and Rita fall in the snow and dance together.
But as things progress, and Phil’s formula for love begins to fall apart, Charles’ melody is pulled apart by score composer George Fenton (around the 56:30 mark, if you’re watching the movie) and used to accent Rita’s rejection of Phil, as her hand hits his face. The melody goes staccato as the hits fall on his cheek, over and over, until Phil gives up and walks away alone. The song then relaxes, and takes on its true meaning – it’s a song about a sad, lonely man who longs for a woman who doesn’t really know him, and he doesn’t really know her.
Phil realizes he can’t make Rita love him by tricking her, and he turns his attention to developing other skills. It’s a nice turning point in the film, although he’s still got more to learn.
Bonus: “You Don’t Know Me”, performed by original songwriter Eddy Arnold, and hitmaker Ray Charles.