Jason Bateman, Jason Reitman Honor Harold Ramis at Live Read of ‘Groundhog Day’

Film Independent at LACMA’s Live Read performances are always special – cold recitations of classic screenplays, the readings are never rehearsed, recorded, or repeated. But Thursday night’s live read of the existentialist comedy “Groundhog Day,” directed and co-written by the late Harold Ramis, had a particularly special, melancholy tinge.

After a short introduction from Film Independent at LACMA curator Elvis Mitchell, who called the pic “the closest we’ve come to having a Frank Capra film for the modern era,” director and series creator Jason Reitman spoke of his admiration for Ramis, who collaborated with his father Ivan Reitman on five projects.

“I was 12 days old on the set of ‘Animal House,’” Reitman recalled. “Think about that.”

Following his brief remarks, Reitman introduced the night’s cast, which included Jason Bateman in Bill Murray’s Phil Connors role, Elizabeth Reaser as Andie MacDowell’s Rita, Jeff Ross as Chris Elliott’s Larry, and series veteran Mae Whitman as Marita Geraghty’s Nancy. Yet the loudest cheers came for Stephen Tobolowski, who reprised his own role as Ned Ryerson, Phil’s unctuous old high school classmate.

Reitman opted to conduct the live read from an earlier version of the script, which Ramis co-wrote with Danny Rubin, providing a number of surprises for those who (like this writer) can all but recite the 1993 pic from memory. This “Groundhog Day” included a greater emphasis on the Phil and Rita love story from the start, as well as spelling out exactly how long Phil has been trapped in his Moebius strip of a day. (10,000 years, by the end.) It did miss out on a few of Murray’s ad-libbed lines, however, with “people like blood sausage, people are morons” being a particularly conspicuous absence.

Bateman proved an inspired choice for Phil, and rather than simply mimicking Murray’s deliveries, he tackled the character as a much more aloof, supercilious, Bluthian primadonna, turning ever more flustered as his predicament lengthens. (He also earned cheers for his halting yet thoroughly committed efforts to recite French poetry phonetically.) Whitman and Ross put in yeoman’s work as a host of supporting characters, particularly the recurring morning DJs, though Tobolowski naturally got the biggest laughs by recreating every last “bing!” and “it’s a doozy.”

And it should probably go without saying, but Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” played on a continuous loop on the Bing Theater’s sound system before and after the performance.

(Pictured: Stephen Tobolowsky, Jason Bateman and Elizabeth Reaser at the Film Independent at LACMA live read of “Groundhog Day” at Bing Theatre At LACMA)

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