Ever since Groundhog Day’s release in 1993, the concept of a time loop (a character reliving the same day over and over,) has made its way across many genres. From blockbuster action in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow to horror-comedy in 2017’s Happy Death Day, one could say the time loop concept is losing its freshness. A definitive argument against such a statement can be found in Palm Springs, Max Barbakow’s breezy and sweet Sundance hit.
The film begins at a Palm Springs desert resort, where cynical deadbeat Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is serving as maid of honor for her sister’s wedding. At the afterparty, she hits it off with the nihilistic and carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg.) The two sneak out of the party to sleep together, and things only go downhill from there. After an accident involving a mysterious glowing cave and a bow-and-arrow-toting madman named Roy(J.K. Simmons,) the two find themselves reliving the same day over and over again. The loop resets every time they fall asleep, and there’s nothing they can do to get out of it.
Screenwriter Andy Siara is blissfully unconcerned with the “how” and “why” of the time loop, preferring to focus instead on the way it affects the budding relationship between the two leads. Sarah and Nyles are both deeply cynical, world-weary loners. They both think they know everything, and they both have a lot to learn from one another. It’s fun to see Samberg relaxed and blissed-out, popping open beer cans and waxing philosophical. It’s equally enjoyable to watch Milioti go wild, gleefully cocking guns at a shooting range and screaming obscenities at the cops. Samberg and Milioti’s chemistry is consistently excellent, and watching these two bond, argue, and fall in love is Palm Springs’ greatest pleasure.
As veteran sitcom actors, it’s no surprise that Milioti and Samberg nail Palm Springs’ jokes and punchlines. However, it’s in the moments of tenderness, of emotion, that they truly shine. The pathos and depth both actors bring to their respective performances is what makes the film tick. Nyles and Sarah's flaws aren't just comedic tools - thanks to the excellent acting and smart script, they feel genuine and well-explored. The performances, combined with cinematographer Quyen Tran’s excellent eye for detail and color, create moments of lovely romantic grandeur. Palm Springs makes it effortless to root for this pair’s happily-ever-after.
That’s not to say that everything is sunny in Palm Springs. Interestingly grim moral concepts, such as the idea of committing violence when the victims won’t remember it once the day resets, are often brought up only to be tossed aside. Much of the final act also feels rushed, undercooked, and a little contrived compared to the rest of the film. The first act, as well, takes a while to find its tonal rhythm. Despite these faults, Palm Springs sticks the landing, carried almost solely by performance and emotion. You’ll finish the film with a sweet taste in your mouth, and maybe a bit more belief(in love, in fate, in the vitality of the “time loop” genre,) than you had when you started.
Palm Springs is rated R. It is available to stream on Hulu.