After Groundhog Day, I always wondered why people tried to keep making comedy time loop films. Once you’ve found something so perfect what do you expect to add? It’s always the same thing anyway. We see people experience grisly deaths, drink, take wild risks, and fill the time as best they can. It’s not like there’s been an awful lot of originality. That doesn’t seem to stop anyone trying to do something new. Last year, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti starred in the latest attempt and, in another great example of unoriginality, it centres around a wedding. I knew that the reviews for this had been good but, I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed by that concept. Still, Samberg is a great performer. He may not have written this but I had to believe that he wouldn’t sign on to do any old shit.
Yes, on the surface Palm Springs might seem like a rehashing of old tropes but it manages to breathe a bit of life into them. One of the way it does this is by flipping the switch early doors. Instead of 1 person experiencing time resetting, we get 2. Andy Samberg’s Nyles has been reliving the same day so many times he’s forgotten what his job is. He wear a Hawaiian shirt and yellow swim shorts. He drinks, lounges around and doesn’t seem overly concerned about the wedding his girlfriend is a bridesmaid at. During an unfortunate attempt to seduce the sister-of-the-bride, Nyles ends up with a companion. Sara is a bit of a drifter and the loser of her family. She has made a lot of mistakes and can’t compare to her selfless sister. After the initial shock has worn off, Nyles has to act like Sara’s Obi Wan and teach her the ways of the loop. As the pair begin to spend more time together, will they find their relationship changing?
Really, this is exactly the kind of time loop film that you’d expect someone like Samberg to star in. It might be treading familiar ground but it still manages to feel fresh. The fact that we’re starting in the middle of Nyle’s story gives off a bit of a sequel vibe, which works in its favour. You learn more about Nyles’ journey through the way he helps guide Sara. It changes the way the makers had to deal with an introduction to the loop. Instead of the trapped person coming to terms with it themselves, they get to play out more interesting scenarios. There are some really fabulous moments here and they all work tremendously.
It definitely helps that Samberg and Cristin Milioti have great chemistry together. Their relationship on screen builds realistically and they are pretty sweet together. They are both willing to throw themselves into anything and find the humour. Yet they never take themselves or this premise too seriously. This is a film that doesn’t need to completely buy into the rules of the time loop. It knows what it is and how many similar films have come before. It isn’t bothered about anything but having a good time. Unlike the lesser examples, Palm Springs knows that Groundhog Day is the granddaddy of his genre and it never tries to live up. It just tries to do its own thing.
That’s not to say that this is just a one-note comedy film. There’s plenty of darkness underneath the story. It isn’t afraid to get bleak or show the awful reality of living the same life over and over. Nyles is forgetting who is and is forced to watch his girlfriend cheat on him repeatedly. He attends the same wedding every day and watches the joyful couple prepare to start a new life that will never come. Then there’s Sara who has to experience one of the worst decisions of her life every morning. Palm Springs is more toned down that Samberg’s other films. It’s less over-the-top and ironic. There is a sincerity and realism to this film. It’s much better than the premise deserved to be.
Is it perfect? No. I would say that it tries to do a little too much in its short runtime. The end feels a bit too rushed and there are certain strands that are definitely wrapped up too quickly. One key character doesn’t get the attention that he deserves. This is a fast film and there are moments that possibly should have been allowed more room to breathe. Yet, ultimately, this film is sensational. It is self-assured and fun. It brings new life into a seemingly tired trope and manages to feel fresh. The fact that it is slightly flawed doesn’t take away from the sheer joy that it is to watch. The perfect film to watch during the year of the pandemic.