The time loop device has become a bit of hybrid genre, attaching itself to horror, thrillers, sci-fi, and romantic comedies. From television shows such as The X-Files to murder mystery film such as Happy Death Day, there are many character who have found themselves caught in an endless cycle in which they struggle to return. It’s a right old Groundhog Day situation.
Palm Springs, which finally has it’s UK release, is the latest in a long-line (circle?) of time-loop movies. It has been billed as a sci-fi romantic comedy but its assured tone, skilled writing, and charming performances make it so much more than your average repetitive movie.
Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs has a seemingly basic plotline. Nyles and Sarah are two strangers who are forced to repeat the same day over and over again – Sarah’s sister’s wedding; a day she has no intention of wanting to relive. There’s also a man trying to attack them. But as simple as that premise is; the writing, direction, and performances make it so much more.
Written by Andy Siara, and directed by Max Barbakow, your first impression may be that this is another quirky Samberg vehicle (which is not a bad thing.) What feels fresh about Palm Springs is that the two leads enter the time loop at very different points. For Samberg, his character Nyles has been through this infinite cycle for an undetermined period. All we know is that it has worn him down to his basic instincts and he has given up on trying to escape, cynically accepting his fate within the loop.
As for Milioti, Sarah dives headfirst into Nyles’ loop, unexpectedly for both. Therefore, the audience still has a conduit to experience the situation through the highs and lows of Sarah’s reaction. From anger, denial, sadness, and eventually to accepting Nyles’ way of living, Sarah goes through these moments whilst within the loop that cannot see her die or sleep without her reverting to the same day.
Yet this isn’t the mastery of Siara’s writing and Barbakow. Because not only do you have this philosophy about time and the meaning of existence playing on, you also have this intimate look at, well, humans. Nyles and Sarah are by no means perfect heroes trying to save the day. They are sloppy people who make mistakes with the people they love, and eventually each other. Through many moments, they showcase how a person can slip up, even against the people they admire the most. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Palm Springs is more an examination of love that will forever be enclosed in the messy, nastiness of human behaviour. That instinctive pure love that sort of anchors people to people and reminds them that they must sort their shit out. Not just for others, but for themselves too.
It helps that Samberg and Milioti seem to be pros at this. Samberg, whose range of previous characters include an overly ambitious amateur daredevil, an NYPD officer, and a flailing popstar, is perfectly cast for this role. Garnering him award attention, Samberg’s Nyles is – well – nihilistic almost. He is an exhausted man unable to escape so has selfishly slipped into it and made it his world – forgetting everything on the outside. Though Sarah’s entrance into his world is exciting, it does not make him want to leave, only for her to stay. His “abandon all hope ye who enter” attitude is greatly performed by Samberg who can be equally good at outrageous sequences and deadpan delivery.
Milioti is a superstar. In fact, everything she appears in turns to gold because she has such a great grasp on characters. Milioti is able to make Sarah – the admitted black sheep of the family – likeable. In spite of her own selfish behaviours, this scrappy character is determined to survive and actually learns throughout her experiences in the time loop. Not entirely changing her but evolving to a better version of herself. The change in character is remarkable and mastered greatly in Milioti’s energetic persona here.
Their chemistry together, however, is impeccable. It shines through the film and you cannot help but smile when they are enjoying themselves. I could happily watch another movie with this scrappy pairing, fighting through more time hijinks.
On top of this, the film does a brilliant job at examining the ethics of behaviour within that situation. This is largely where J.K. Simmons’ character Roy comes in. As man pursuing Nyles’ character, it may seem he has nefarious wishes but instead, the film examines his deeds and how that impacted his character. In the end, it creates one of the more sentimental moments of the movie as characters question what is really important in life.
Palm Springs an ingenious film with a lot of soul that also captures the sweltering heat of its name’s sake and the awkwardness of family gatherings. On the one hand, this is a charming, romance film that sees Samberg and Milioti dance wonderfully with the oodles of chemistry. On the other hand, this is also a debate about our relevance on this world and how time can be easily wasted or traded away.
Most importantly, however, is that it has the best use of Kate Bushes’ Cloudspotting.
Palm Springs is a movie you’ll want to watch again, and again, and again.
Palm Springs is out on Amazon Prime now!