Take Groundhog Day, sprinkle in the Lonely Island, and add a bunch of heart, and you have Palm Springs, an excellent new film debuting on Hulu Friday. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti star as two strangers who find themselves stuck reliving a mutual acquaintance’s Palm Springs wedding day over and over again while also, maybe, falling in love.
Palm Springs isn’t quite the instant classic like the similar time-loop films Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow are, but it has plenty of twists that make it stand apart from those movies and almost hits that level of quality. Plus, the best thing about Palm Springs is it uses the familiarity of those time loop films to its advantage.
As the film begins, Nyles (Samberg) has been in this loop for an undetermined, but very long, amount of time. He knows every person, every beat, every nuance of this particular day. So when Sarah (Milioti) mistakenly ends up joining him, he quickly fills her in on the rules. Where most films of the genre would meticulously go over that stuff, Palm Springs uses our pre-established knowledge to skip all of it. We’ve seen those movies. We get the idea. So instead of 20 minutes of been-there-done-that, the story can instead focus on Nyles and Sarah as people as opposed to plot pawns.
That’s not to say Palm Springs doesn’t have fun with its familiar trope. On the contrary, it might, in fact, take things further and into weirder places than any of the other films like it because it has more time to do so. In that time, Nyles and Sarah truly embrace the fact that nothing they do has any consequences. That results in lots of incredibly unique, uncomfortable, and hilarious encounters, gross deaths, and a few surprises twists on what’s even possible in a time loop story. It’s all really clever but, ultimately, not what the movie is about.
Both writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow helped craft the story, which primarily uses the time loop trope to explore its deeper philosophical implications. On the one hand, Nyles has been in the loop for so long, he’s developed a very comfortable routine. Sarah, conversely, is not OK with the repetition. The juxtaposition of their viewpoints ends up illuminating both their chemistry and the audience’s personal preferences. Would you trade immortality for infinite monotony? Or would you be willing to die to get back to normal?
There are heavy themes in Palm Springs but thanks to Samberg and Milioti, they rarely feel that way. Each is so charming, vulnerable, and hilarious, the story moves like a rocketship fueled by adorable awkwardness. It also helps that the small, supporting roles are played by the likes of Oscar winner J.K. Simmons and Oscar nominee June Squibb. They, along with the bride and groom (Superman himself, Tyler Hoechlin, and Riverdale’s Camila Mendes) and the father of the bride (OC dad Peter Gallagher), don’t have a lot to do aside from fill roles at the wedding, but they give the whole event some welcome gravitas and recognition. You want to see more and more of the world, even when the story is focusing on Nyles and Sarah.
One minor gripe I had with Palm Springs is that while it does everything very well, it never elevates above that. It has cool, mind-bending time travel rules, outrageous humor, touching romance, you name it. But it all melds together in a package that entertains without any real permanence. Maybe it’s because it moves too fast or is so charming you get a little disarmed by the whole thing. The ending comes a little abruptly as well. Fact is, shortly after watching Palm Springs, I remembered my adoration for the film more than its specifics. Honestly, though, it’s the kind of film that if I did watch it again, I’m certain it would have much more to offer thanks to its bounty of big ideas.
If Palm Springs was coming out in theaters I would highly recommend you go check it out. But streaming for free with a Hulu subscription? That makes it a must-see. You will love every second of the film, even if it may not have you thinking about it for years to come.
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