Palm Springs (2020)

12 Jul

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: this is a movie in which the protagonist is stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day, over and over, again and again AND AGAIN…unless they can find a way to become a better person and/or inspire everyone around them.

No, I’m not reviewing the 1993 Bill Murray metaphysical comedy/drama “Groundhog Day,” but it’s the one movie we think about when we hear that premise. Every time its formula is carried over in other genres—science fiction (“Source Code”). action (“Edge of Tomorrow”), horror (“Happy Death Day”), high-school drama (“Before I Fall”)—we always say the same thing: “That sounds like ‘Groundhog Day.’” 

“Palm Springs,” directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara, is a romantic comedy with the same “Groundhog Day” formula…sort of. Let me explain:

We start off with our main character, Nyles (Andy Samberg), a 30something man-child trapped in an arrested development stage. Literally. Like Bill Murray’s Phil in “Groundhog Day,” Samberg’s Nyles is (I’m using the same phrase again) stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day, over and over, again and again AND AGAIN. When we first meet him, he’s already done it hundreds of times—he’s comfortably content with his situation by now. 

The day is Saturday, November 9. The setting is a posh wedding in Palm Springs, California. Nyles is the plus-one of his self-absorbed and humorously vapid girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner), who is a bridesmaid. Oh, and she is also cheating on Nyles, who is well aware of it (but what can he do about it?). And every time the loop begins again, she’s the one to wake him up. Nyles and Misty’s sex life is practically empty since Misty doesn’t want to make love because it might smudge her makeup. But MEH. Doesn’t matter to Nyles—he can hook up with a wedding guest, no matter who it may be, and not have to worry about consequences because the next day is always a chance to start over again (LITERALLY). 

Nyles has already accepted being in his continual loop long ago. He can mess with people, he can live the life in this place, he can show up to the wedding and the reception in shorts and a bright Hawaiian shirt (sir, you are the king of Palm Springs weddings), he can get to know everybody present, and he doesn’t have to worry about the future because he’s always living in the now. 

What’s that? Why, yes, “Palm Springs” DOES contain effective commentary for this formula. And that’s one of many reasons I like this movie so much. 

Why is it always just one person experiencing a time loop in these movies? Wouldn’t it be interesting if the main character had some company? Well, here’s where things get even more interesting in “Palm Springs.” The answer (so to speak) for the loop seems to come from inside a nearby cave. After Nyles picks up the wedding bride’s older sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), something goes wrong, causing Nyles to retreat inside the cave. Despite Nyles’ warnings not to follow him, she does…and now she’s trapped in the loop too! 

Needless to say, she’s not happy about this. She demands answers from Nyles, who answers as best as he can. They’re both stuck in the same day. No matter what they try to do (and she even travels all the way from Palm Springs to Austin, Texas…only to wake up back in the Palm Springs hotel again!), they always reset every time they fall asleep. 

Well, sh*t. Now what? 

Well, now Nyles and Sarah can form a connection (I mean, after a lot of arguing, of course). Then, they can start having fun together with this opportunity to mess with people just for fun. Then, they can learn some deep life lessons. Then, they can learn about what they could mean to each other. And yeah, it’s a romcom formula to go with the time-loop formula, but you know what? It works. It REALLY works, because both these actors (Samberg and Milioti) are great together. And their characters individually develop into something more than we’d expect, leading to a third act that is actually pretty darn compelling and rich. 

Oh, and I forgot to mention there’s a strange man who seems to have it in for Nyles and continuously shows up at the wedding to kill him. I won’t go into who this character is in this review, but I will say he’s played by JK Simmons, just so I give you more reason to stream this movie on Hulu. 

Anyway, Nyles and Sarah start to wonder if there’s a chance for romance for them. But at the same time, the thought that’s always on Sarah’s mind is whether or not there’s a way out of this loop so they can have a future together. But Nyles, who has been living in the now so long he’s fine with it, isn’t sure he wants to have a future at all. 

“Palm Springs” is one of the most refreshingly original romantic comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It’s sweet, funny, and smart all at the same time, thanks to a great script. The characters (and the actors playing them) are appealing and winning. The directing sprinkles nice touches here and there (such as a party banner that reads “FOREVER”). And most importantly for any romcom, I care deeply about whether or not our main couple in question stays together. 

“Palm Springs” is available exclusively on Hulu. 

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