A new and emotionally involving take on the time-loop concept
The time-loop concept in film is one that has been exploited in many different genres, from the original blockbuster comedy Groundhog Day (1993), it was recently delved into the action genre with Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and even horror with Happy Death Day (2017). Thus, it might be hard to believe that a new film has broken incredible new ground with a fresh and magnetic new perspective.
Palm Springs (2020) is about Nyles (Andy Samberg), a man who is stuck in a time-loop, reliving the same day at a wedding. He’s completely lost count of how long he’s been stuck living the same day, having accepted his fate. However, he accidentally ropes in wedding guest Sarah (Cristin Millioti), who becomes stuck with Nyles in the same time-loop.
The plot needs not be explained any further, mostly because it is the surprises and fresh take on the concept that make Palm Springs such a joy. The film is feature-film debut of director Max Barbakow and the first feature-length screenplay from Andy Siara; nevertheless, they both impress viewers with a wit and speed that keeps one glued to the screen.
Every once in a while, there is a film that particularly hits you on a personal level. This connection is one that fills you to the brim with emotions and questions, and yet as a reviewer, it can frequently mar the objectivity you crave to have. Thus, after watching and being swept away by Palm Springs I decided to sleep on the film before reviewing it. However, I found it hard to sleep at all, having been stolen away by the film’s world and characters that continued to swirl in my mind hours and hours later.
The casting here is key. Samberg seems to have found a perfect role for his charming comedy. He burst onto the scene in Saturday Night Live (1975-) with his viral digital shorts, but since then he’s been criminally underappreciated in Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-) and the Lonely Island-written Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016). In Palm Springs, Samberg produces, but it is perhaps thanks to someone else’s writing that his humor is toned down from appearing completely satirical and used only in effective spurts. This allows Samberg’s character to be charming, and have viewers gravitate towards him despite appearing lazy and indifferent about his situation. This moderation from Siara and Barbakow also allows Samberg to show a dramatic side that is equally as impressive and adept as his comedic one.
Then there’s Millioti, who has been shining recently in loose episodes of anthology series like Modern Love (2019-) or Black Mirror (2011-), with viewers of those shows always itching for more of her. In Palm Springs Millioti is finally given her breadth of space and material to play with and she nearly steals the entire show. She proves to be an adept audience advocate into the world as well as bringing an incredible pain and depth to her character’s journey. As we begin to find out more about these characters, viewers begin to realize that Millioti had been dropping hints about her full identity all throughout the runtime, and yet had been so subtle, that they did not interrupt the film’s rhythm. That is a true act of selflessness in a performer, who is sacrificing the monopoly of attention she could have for the good of the film.
Palm Springs brings to the fore an exploration of a variety of themes, as well as commentaries on several subjects. The most prominent intrigue the film has is how the immortality and immunity of living the same day over and over again, might take a toll psychologically. However, the film is also smart enough to not run us through the entire journey of disillusionment and goodness that most other time-loop films do. It decides to skip over those character decisions to explore the after. It is here that we get the timely look at the toll that such isolation from other people and living inside-oneself can have. One of the film’s greatest strengths is its writing, as all of the characters are given an incredible depth and lived-in feeling. Even seeming cameos add very important grains to the narrative, with each detail being purposeful.
Barbakow keeps such a breakneck pace, that you aren’t given much time to “solve” the film, instead you should just let it carry you. The film is so well structured and with such an effective rhythm you are surprised when it ends; frankly disappointed you can’t spend more time in its world. The comedy flits into drama with an incredible ease and the characters are indelibly written and performed. The emotional and creative leaps that Palm Springs takes are truly to be admired, and what’s more it succeeds at such jumps. In the end, I could continue to talk about this film and praise it to the heavens, but that would be at a risk of seeming redundant. Safe to say, Palm Springs is a must-watch, and the best film of a tumultuous year so far.