These days, every day seems the same. Wake up. Don’t leave the house. Go to bed. Repeat. It’s like we’re stuck in a horrific time loop of endless monotony and isolation. While he’s not in self-quarantine, Nyles (Andy Samberg) finds himself waking up each and every day in the same bed. In the debut film from director Max Barbakow, Palm Springs, Nyles is trapped in a time loop. No matter what detours he takes, no matter what happened the night before, Nyles will always wake up in the same bed at the same time. Of course, Palm Springs will draw comparisons to the 1993 classic Groundhog Day, but thanks to a brazenly witty screenplay, spirted performances, and an unusual romance Palm Springs ensures those comparisons are only on the surface. Though made before our collective nightmare, Palm Springs is the movie for our hellish moment and one of the best movies of this absolutely bizarre year.
When we first see Nyles he’s rising from a night’s slumber as his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) prepares for her friend’s wedding. Nyles cares not for the ceremony that’s about to take place in the coming hours, instead he floats in the pool with a beer in hand expressing his existential nihilism. Once the vows have been exchanged and everyone is mingling at the reception, Nyles seems to be in complete command of the situation – dancing and mingling before grabbing the mic to spare the bride’s sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti) from delivering an impromptu speech. This bold gesture endears Nyles to Sarah, and the two quickly bond over their dislike of the other guests, including Nyles’ own girlfriend. The two jaunt away to a secluded place which complicates things when a mysterious stranger attacks Nyles, leaving him wounded to crawl towards some nearby cave. Nyles pleads with Sarah not to follow him, but an emotional connection fueled by alcohol entices Sarah to follow. The next thing you know Sarah is now also trapped in this time loop.
The fantastical premise of Palm Springs is grounded by the two distinct main characters, and the screenplay by Andy Siara (with a co-story credit for Max Barbakow) utilizes the film’s concept to slowly expand the audience’s understanding of theses characters. Nyles is a man resigned to his fate. He’s given up trying to figure out the rules of his time loop. He’s given up trying to break the cycle. He’s embraced the daily routine of repetition and alcohol abuse. Conversely, Sarah will not give up and tirelessly wonders about ways to break the cycle of the time loop. She’s the black sheep of the family, and as we get to know her better we understand the pain and regret that drives her to seek an escape from the repetition of every day. These characters are somewhat similar yet their differences are what drives them together.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti anchor Palm Springs with their onscreen chemistry. While some of their characters’ romance might feel a little predictable, it doesn’t feel forced because of the two charismatic actors are able to balance the tightrope of the film’s tonal shifts, which range from anarchic comedy to heartfelt introspection. Palm Springs has no shortage of outrageous laughs but also retains its heart in a romantic storyline that is surprisingly resonant in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Samberg and Milioti are given ample help in the film with its robust supporting cast which includes Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, Tyler Hoechlin, Peter Gallagher, Chris Pang, Camila Mendes, and Conner O’Malley.
Palm Springs made headlines out of Sundance for securing the largest deal for a movie to come out of the famous film festival, and it’s a shame that this film won’t play in packed auditoriums where you can revel in the audience reaction to the various twists and turns that unfold. There are numerous aspects to Palm Springs that are familiar, but it’s a testament to talents of director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara that they’re able to consistently subvert the familiarity and consistently deliver surprises. With their feature film debut, Barbakow and Siara have established themselves as a creative team to keep an eye on as Palm Springs is a confident feature that delivers on every aspect of its premise. Palm Springs is hilarious, romantic, and earnestly moving. Who knows when we’re ever able to break out of this horrible cycle we’re all trapped in, but at least Palm Springs provides a little bright spot among all the monotony of the moment.
With a time loop narrative certain to be compared to 1993’s Groundhog Day, director Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs is a delightful, thoughtful romantic comedy working within a time loop story that inadvertently captures the monotony of our moment while delivering big laughs and heartfelt emotion.