Andy Samberg's 'Palm Springs' Puts a Nihilistic Twist on the Time-Loop Genre Directed by Max Barbakow
Starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Camila Mendes
Published Dec 21, 2020There have been so many time-loop movies that it's starting to feel a bit like we're reliving the same film over and over again, each time with minor variations. Since the genre-defining Groundhog Day, we've seen Source Code (a.k.a. Train Groundhog Day), Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Alien Groundhog Day), Happy Death Day (a.k.a. Serial Killer Groundhog Day) and Russian Doll (a.k.a. TV Show Groundhog Day).
And now here we are with Palm Springs, a title so forgettable that the film will surely be unofficially referred as Wedding Groundhog Day forevermore. Plot-wise, it's quite similar to all those other time-loop movies I just mentioned — and also like those other time-loop movies, this one is very good.
The mechanics of this time loop are familiar: they wake up in the same time and place every day, and every time they die or fall asleep, they snap back to the morning and do it all over again. The twist is that, by the time we meet lead character Nyles (Andy Samberg), he's already been through countless repetitions of the same day and already knows the exact moment he should cut in during the wedding speech, who he can save from fainting on the dance floor, and what empty swimming pool he can go drink in. The monotony of his repetitive life eventually gets disrupted when he inadvertently gets fellow wedding guest Sarah (Cristin Milioti) trapped in the time loop along with him, transforming Palm Springs from a dark comedy into an existential rom-com.
Despite being produced in part by the Lonely Island goofballs, Palm Springs goes much darker than Groundhog Day. Nyles and Sarah confront the sheer pointlessness of a life where every day resets; there's manipulative sex, hard drugs, infidelity, suicide, and lots of contemplation of the void. They numb themselves with a non-stop parade of beers, which is as funny as it is depressing. Meanwhile, one wedding guest, Roy (J.K. Simmons), is on a sadistic, murderous hunt for Nyles.
The film's nihilistic streak sets it apart from other time-loop movies — as well as from Samberg's usual slapstick fare. Hot Rod this most certainly is not. In the time-honoured tradition of Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock or Kristin Wiig, Samberg here proves himself very capable of merging his comedic talents with something more dramatic and tragic; think of this as his The Truman Show. And Milioti also proves herself a strong leading actor, as Sarah transcends Nyles' happy-go-lucky hopelessness and fights to escape the misery of the time loop.
So why the hell is this thing called Palm Springs anyway? Sure, it's set in the titular California city, but is there any more to it than that? Maybe it's because life in Palm Springs can feel a bit like a time loop — the weather's pretty much always the same, and days of the week barely matter because so many of the local residents are retired. Certainly, it would be hard to find a more appropriate metaphor for life under pandemic lockdown than a time loop. Palm Springs — both the movie and the place — reminds us that, even when monotony gets bleak, it's still pretty fun to laze around with a beer and crack jokes. (Neon / streaming on Amazon Prime) (Hulu / Neon)