In 1993, Harold Ramis treated us to the universally beloved Groundhog Day. In the decades since, the time-loop genre has remained largely untouched. Entering the 2010s there has been a noticeable resurgence of the niche. Tom Cruise relives the same day combating an alien species in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow and Blumhouse released Happy Death Day in 2017; a reinvention of the slasher genre where a college student is repeatedly murdered and has to identify her killer. Admittedly, despite enjoying all 3 aforementioned films, it invariably felt as though the genre was close to becoming saturated. Luckily Max Barbakow’s feature-length film debut Palm Springs provides a fresh and inspired take on the theme.
Nyles (Andy Samberg) plays a reluctant wedding attendee as a plus one to his self-consumed girlfriend Misty. However, it transpires that he is forever trapped in an unrelenting loop after venturing into a nearby cave which distorts the entrants’ concept of time. Nyles is destined to suffer the ceremony every day and with it all the narcissism and self-serving attitudes that are established in Western celebrations. The brilliant female lead Sarah (Cristin Milioti) plays the disillusioned Maid-of-honour, who despite having an elevated role in the marriage, is as disinterested in the event as Nyles himself. The pair become acquainted and Sarah inadvertently enters the same time-loop cave after Nyles is chased by a bow-and-arrow wielding crusader called Roy.
The most brilliant aspect of Palm Springs, similarly to its predecessors, is that it doesn’t take the theme seriously. The audience is first informed of Nyles’ involvement in the loop during a dance scene at the wedding. In Chaplin-esque fashion, Samberg circulates the dancefloor with the knowledge of each guest’s predetermined movement, allowing for a pantomime of choreographed laughs. The idea of precognitive humour is evident throughout Groundhog Day, and it is testament to Samberg’s comedic genius that he can deliver with the same flawless nonchalance as the iconic Bill Murray. One small resonating scene is where Samberg attempts to cut in on the first dance, an unequivocally awkward idea in modern society but conveyed in a way that left me gasping for air laughing.
Although advertised as a rom-com, Palm Springs touches on the deeper themes of guilt, vulnerability and existential crises. Both Nyles and Sarah have complicated issues with relationships and love. Nyles’ girlfriend, played by Meredith Hagner, is fantastically funny as the ‘life-goals’ cheerleader of the wedding, but whose infidelity allows the leads to form an initial connection. The on-screen chemistry between Samberg and Milioti is tangible, and as with all classic romcoms, as we learn more about each character and their respective flaws, we root for their unity with increasing fervour. This is a credit to Andy Siara’s screenplay, which brilliantly combines laugh-out-loud scenes with emotionally constructed conversations that seamlessly develop characters and relationships.
JK Simmons unsurprisingly delivers in a supporting role as Nyles’ ongoing nemesis Roy, elevating the character to heights only Simmons can. Without revealing too much, it is really his character who indirectly coordinates the film and allows for the transition between different phases of the plot. Arguably the funniest scene is where he and Samberg share a bath after snorting copious amounts of cocaine. This humour is balanced with his well-documented dramatic acting which we are privy to in the latter aspects of the movie.
Although this film’s production was in a pre-pandemic world, its themes may unintentionally work to its benefit with modern audiences. In a society rife with lockdown and furlough schemes, many people have been tackling issues of self-importance. Palm Springs flaunts the idea of diminished responsibility and how tempting it might be to live such an existence, forgetting principal elements of your past life as Nyles has. Finding the motivation to break through unparalleled times and find renewed meaning is a familiar concept to many at this juncture in their lives. Palm Springs addresses these ideas with simultaneous cynicism and unbridled optimism, as the lead characters battle with the notions of stable permanence or unstable ascendence.
Palm Springs is one of the great modern romantic comedies. It delivers immaculately on spectacle, script, soundtrack and sentiment. It is deliciously funny, thought-provoking and addresses very real issues in 2020. Who wouldn’t want to drink beers on a pizza-shaped pool float each and every day for the rest of their lives, but then again, who would?
Dir: Max Barbakow
Scr: Andy Siara
Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, JK Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner
Prd: Chris Parker, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Dylan Sellers, Becky Sloviter
DoP: Quyen Tran
Music: Matthew Crompton
Run time: 90 mins
Palm Springs is currently streaming on Hulu in the US, and is awaiting a UK release date.