Synopsis: When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated as they are unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.
Stars: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, Tyler Hoechlin, J.K. Simmons, Camila Mendes
Director: Max Barbakow
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Most movies are written, produced, and edited months and months before their intended release date so it would be impossible for any film to truly predict where the world would be when the project is revealed for public consumption. Occasionally there are times when a movie is released at an opportune time that just happens to coincide with a major event and it seems like the creators had a kind of crystal ball in predicting the future. An example off the top of my head is when The China Syndrome was released in March of 1979, a mere twelve days before the nuclear incident at Twelve Mile Island which bore a striking resemblance to the events depicted in the movie.
So you have to imagine that aside from general feelings of concern for their family, friends, and loved ones the creators of the Sundance hit Palm Springs were just a little happy to see their movie expressed tracked from its original theatrical release by distributors Hulu and Neon and sent right to Hulu’s streaming platform in time for the fourth of July weekend. After all, by this time countless potential viewers had been cooped up indoors since early March and had been living what felt like the same day over and over again. What better way to reward them than by offering up relatable laughs in a smart, funny comedy about a guy and girl stuck in a similar situation?
Waking up on the morning of a friend’s wedding he doesn’t want to attend with a girlfriend he doesn’t like, Nyles (Andy Samberg, Hotel Transylvania 2) is already over it. He goes through the motions of the day and barely makes an effort to stay present at the wedding or the reception after. His interactions with the guests seems strident at times, gregarious at others…like that fun guy at the party who can turn on a dime if he has one drink over his limit. He does wind up having too many and saves maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti, The Wolf of Wall Street) from making a speech she clearly doesn’t want to give. Finding a kindred soul also having a terrible time, Sarah is intrigued by Nyles and follows him for the rest of the evening…eventually leading her to a cave in the desert with a special power. She enters and then wakes up the next morning…which is the same morning as the one before.
Turns out the cave holds a portal in the time space continuum and Sarah has joined Nyles in a never-ending time loop where they have to relive the same day over and over again. It doesn’t matter how far they drive or where they are when the day has ended, they’ll always wake up in exactly the same place they woke up the day they went into the cave. Nyles has lost track of how many days he’s been the loop but Sarah is determined to find a way out, mostly because she’s harboring a secret of why this particular day is one she’s not eager to relieve for eternity.
Obviously, the easy comparison to make here is Groundhog Day and there are flashes of that classic Bill Murray film in some of the concepts found in Andy Siara’s screenplay. There’s also a little Happy Death Day 2U with a brief diversion into death not being a way out of the loop. Yet Palm Springs is very much its own individual film and that’s due in no small part to Siara balancing the humor with a few reality checks along the way. That’s especially surprising giving the people involved behind the scenes who aren’t usually known for living with two feet on the ground.
As an actor, I’ve found Samberg to be mostly obnoxious in a number of his roles but was pleasantly surprised to witness his grounded and wry take on a man resigned to relive a crappy day forever. We meet him long after he’s accepted his fate so he’s laid-back and carefree…and Samberg wisely avoids making the character such a one-note bonehead that we can’t imagine spending 24 hours with him, let alone infinity. He’s more than well matched with Milioti, finding that rare thing called chemistry. She’s got the harder role to navigate because everything is new to her and she’s the one reacting to the situation for the first time. How she responds dictates how the audience will respond to her and thankfully the role feels fleshed out and is performed with a sharpness not always found in high-concept comedies like this.
In addition to capturing commendable performances from the stars, director Max Barbakow fills the supporting roster with a nice array of character actors that slip in from time to time. As another looper with a grudge against Samberg, J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man: Far from Home) is used in a utilitarian fashion but the simplicity of the role makes a scene late in the movie land with more impact. Dale Dickey (The Guilt Trip), Tyler Hoechlin (Everybody Wants Some!), June Squibb (Nebraska), and Peter Gallagher (A Bad Moms Christmas) also show up for little moments here and there, not reserving all the good stuff for Samberg and Milioti. When a script has extra jokes for small supporting performers and is willing to share, you know it’s the sign of something above average.
The only downside to Palm Springs is I’m not sure it’s a film I’d put on my list to watch again. It’s entertaining as all get-out and Siara’s script is so strong and on the mark it could easily get some awards recognition at the end of the year. All the same…I just don’t know if it will hold up on repeat viewings. That first time through was such a fun discovery, I feel like revisiting these characters wouldn’t capture the same magic.