Palm Springs, 2020.
Directed by Max Barbakow.
Starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Tyler Hoechlin, Camila Mendes, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Chris Pang, Tongayi Chirisa, Jacqueline Obradors, Dale Dickey, Brian Duffy, and June Squibb.
When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated as they are unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.
In an age where nostalgia, sequels, and remakes are predominantly financially supported above original work, it’s refreshing to see a romantic comedy with a sci-fi twist such as Palm Springs that isn’t so much a remake of Groundhog Day as it is lifting that narrative concept and repurposing it with an entirely different story and themes. The inspiration is in plain sight, but director Max Barbakow (making his first feature-length film, from a script by Andy Siara) splinters off into familiar territory with a fresh perspective. It’s a testament to the idea that remakes can and should be much more than remakes, combating the sentiment that originality is dead. Sure, completely new concepts are incredibly rare to come by, but nothing is stopping anyone from molding the past into something distinct and excellent in its own way.
Nyles (Andy Samberg, always a fantastic down-to-earth and relatable comedic presence) is attending the wedding of Tara and Abe (Camila Mendes and Tyler Hoechlin respectively) in the titular sun-drenched heatwave setting of Palm Springs, alongside girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) who appears to be a close friend of the bride. Honestly, their connection to the wedding doesn’t matter; they are in a loveless relationship where Misty also happens to be cheating on Nyles. Still, it doesn’t stop him from giving an impromptu speech at the wedding preaching about the proverbial one being able to conquer loneliness. Putting it bluntly, it’s a bunch of shit he doesn’t even believe.
And how could he? It’s soon made understood that Nyles has been stuck in a time loop for so long he doesn’t even remember what his job was during his normal day-to-day existence (even his wardrobe suggesting he should be at a luau instead of a wedding is telling to the absence of responsibility now in his routine). Instead, he has taken the time to attempt to understand why he is stuck in the time loop, inevitably giving up to have fun and let the meaningless of life take over, whether it be from hooking up with wedding guests, relaxing in the pool of a family gone on vacation, interfering with the wedding itself turning it into a disaster, and offscreen suicides intended to finally break the cycle.
There’s also a method where Nyles can drag others into the time loop with him, something he does accidentally from time to time. One time at the wedding Nyles chooses to seduce the bride’s sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti), but with dire consequences as she, against his warnings, ends up within the radius of the energy source glitching their timeline. What ensues is the pair getting closer to one another, but with just as much thoughtful analysis of love as there are dick jokes. J.K. Simmons hilariously plays a drug user that also finds himself trapped, but not without his own touching moments as we observe three characters and how their lives have been dramatically changed by such a phenomenon. Palm Springs is both a look at existential crisis and a riotously funny movie examining relationships.
It also would fall apart without the presence of Cristin Milioti, who not only has to match Andy Samberg in the humor department but also during the serious-minded dialogue exchanges exploring their opposing life philosophies following living a life of repetition. Of course, those ideals began spilling out into their generalized personalities, further adding complexity to these individuals struggling not only with the concept of love but their own history and mistakes. It’s always clear that these two are right for each other, and in that sense, Palm Springs is somewhat predictable, but the script at least cares about these characters enough to make the viewers care. It’s welcoming that the goofing off aspects are limited, as it allows for these two to emerge as real characters, all at no expense of comedy.
The filmmakers are also clearly having fun talking away hidden details within this world; I have suspicions that these are not the only three characters stuck in the time loop. While such a thing wouldn’t necessarily drastically change the story, it provides another layer to assess what’s going on. Again, it’s a movie where Andy Samberg gleefully jokes around with his own girlfriend about cheating on him, but also an unexpectedly moving tale of growing up and grasping a stronger idea of love. Palm Springs is a ray of sunshine.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com