Palm Springs is a new Hulu original comedy from director Max Barbakow, based on a screenplay by Andy Siara, and stars Andy Samberg as Nyles, a wedding guest stuck in an infinite time loop in which he repeats the same day over and over. Nyles has learned to chill out when it comes to this cosmic phenomenon, and has abandoned all cares or hope of ever escaping, seeking only to live each day as well as he can in order to make the passage of time more bearable. For fellow wedding guest, Sarah, however, things are about to get as unbearable as they can possibly get. After a hefty night of flirting, drinking, and getting into some unexpected hijinks, Sarah ends up following Nyles into a cave (despite his plea for her not to follow him in there), and ends up resetting the day for herself as well. Now, with her also stuck in this infinite loop, and Nyles as the only other person who understands her situation, Sarah must figure out how to either live with her current circumstances or escape them (and that second one is virtually impossible to do), with her without her newfound partner in this endeavor. And as Nyles and Sarah into the same day, over and over again, coming closer together over time, a new question arises: if you found someone who made every day worth living, could you actually live with them every single day? This movie also stars J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Chris Pang, Jacqueline Obradors, June Squibb, and Dale Dickey.
The time loop movie is an age-old genre that can get very dry very quickly – hell, even mixing that with the genre of romantic comedies is hardly a new concept. Groundhog Day has been the prime example of how to do a time loop romantic comedy since the day it was released, and until Edge of Tomorrow hit theaters (subsequently flopping at the box office) in 2014, most attempts at either kind of film couldn’t even get that first part right. How does one put a fresh new spin on not just one, but two well-worn film genres at the same time? How does one make a time-loop story entertaining, and splice it with a romantic comedy, without basically ripping off Groundhog Day. It doesn’t seem like something that could be done, much less done well. Unfortunately for Palm Springs, its success in this department means that it is likely to be held up as the second best time loop romantic comedy ever made (yeah, even now, Groundhog Day is still the king).
This movie is really great, but it’s not just because of the time loop material or just because of the romantic comedy material. Max Barbakow, Andy Siara, and the Lonely Island have taken both concepts, and pumped them full of fresh spins on each, but what really sells Palm Springs is the sincerity of its script and performances. Throughout the film, one wonders if the characters will ever make it out, but over time, one comes to realize that even if they never do, this would still be a really entertaining watch, because it’s written with such sincerity and heart, and at times can be bitingly funny. There’s no one way to make a movie like this, yet somehow, this seems like the only way a movie like this could have gone so many years after the first attempts. Placing one of our main characters at the middle stage of dealing with a time loop is a genius move, because we’ve all been there before, too. We’ve all seen time loop movies; we all know how these things play out. It can get annoying seeing the same kind of take on this sort of thing over and over, and because we’ve been there before, we share in Nyles’ apathy…until Sarah gets looped in.
That’s the kicker: the brilliance of Palm Springs means that even if that ending is coming eventually, and we know it will, we are now rooting for it not to happen, because we want to spend more time with these characters. We want these characters to be okay, to fall in love and to realize that they’re worthy of it, and figure the time loop stuff out so we can know what’s going on, but we also know that an eventual end to the time loop also means an eventual end to watching them bond, and since that’s at the heart of the movie, we (like Nyles) are hesitant to actually desire a solution, unless we too feel like that would be best for Nyles and Sarah’s relationship. It may not seem it on the surface, but this movie is a fantastic piece of meta-textual writing that plays not only on our expectations with these kinds of films, but actively embraces them in order to propel its central themes.
And that’s where the MVP of this movie comes in: Cristin Milioti, whose complete sincerity in every single part of her performance gives the film both its greatest heartfelt moments and its funniest jokes. Sure, Samberg does have top billing and also puts out one of his best film performances yet, and J.K. Simmons clearly has a lot of fun in a small but significant supporting role, but Milioti is the real deal in this film. There is not a moment in her performance where you don’t believe her, not a word she says that you do not think she means, not a moment she’s on screen where she’s not the star of the show. Your eyes are glued to her every move, and there is not a false one from her for the entire ninety minutes. Milioti is brilliant in this film, and I sincerely hope we see her in a lot more comedies after this, cause she absolutely has the chops to be a star in that regard.
Really, the only thing I wish the movie did a little more of is embrace its sci-fi elements. It’s not important how the time loop happens or why it happens where it does, since that’s not the main point of the story, but I would’ve liked to have seen a little more of the process of how these characters figure out how to get out of it. Most of it is done in montage, which is fine and effective if you want to get information across quickly, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on some really interesting stuff because all of what was learned occurred in montage. Still, it’s a minor complaint in a pretty great movie full of a bunch of other stuff to like, and I’m sure it won’t bother most people at all, and it’s the only thing I can think of that didn’t work almost perfectly the entire film.
Whether or not you appreciate or like the comedic stylings of The Lonely Island and company, or are into rom-coms or time-loop genre films, will absolutely play into how much you like this movie, but as far as I’m concerned, this just about hit the nail on the head with what it attempts to do. The comedy is funny, but never overrides the sincerity of the moment, the performances are great (especially from Cristin Milioti), the time-loop scenario is a really fun sandbox for these characters to play in, and it’s all told without ever feeling generic or like it’s trying so hard to be original that that it sacrifices its authenticity. Palm Springs may not have been the first thing you went to see if it had opened in theaters, and given the star powers of things like Greyhound and The Old Guard, it might not even be the first thing you watch out of this past weekend’s new releases, but it is absolutely worth checking out, and for my money, the best comedy of the summer thus far.
I’m giving “Palm Springs” an 8.8/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.