Updated: Jul 13, 2021
A time loop is when someone is stuck in the same day, which resets whenever they go to sleep, die, etc. This has become a fairly common storytelling device over the last thirty years. Of course, the granddaddy of all time loop movies is the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day, yet it has been used successfully elsewhere (it was recently used to good effect in the slasher Happy Death Day and its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U). The concept is usually used either to help its protagonist learn valuable life lessons or to give them an opportunity to solve a murder mystery. The romantic comedy Palm Springs (now streaming on Hulu) is of the life lessons variety, though he doesn’t learn those lessons willingly. It is a funny and charming entry in the time loop cannon, with some smart twists that set it apart from its predecessors.
Andy Samberg is Nyles, a lazy slacker-type who has lost any purpose he may once have had after getting stuck in the loop while attending a wedding with his self-centered girlfriend. Cristin Milioti is Sarah, the miserable sister of the bride who also gets trapped in that day following an encounter with Nyles. Together, they try to figure out how to get back to their lives.
Palm Springs is in no hurry to get anywhere. It takes its cues from Nyles, who has resigned himself to finding new ways to just get through the day; mainly involving drugs, sex and lots of alcohol. While we never find out much about Nyles’ pre-loop life, it seems like his strange predicament has made him stop caring about anything. That approach could have caused the story to drag but, at under 90 minutes, the filmmakers knew exactly when to get out. Jokes are generally kept at the right length and don’t overstay their welcome.
Samberg’s unmotivated, friendly, man-child act is perfect for Nyles. His laid-back “nothing matters, nothing will ever change” attitude is very fitting in his situation. What we see is a lonely guy entertaining himself the best he can, considering that actual human connection is impossible. It is fun to hang out with him and see him take advantage of the benefits of knowing precisely what is going to happen. However, that would get old after a bit if that was all there was to the movie. Thankfully, Palm Springs has lots of other ideas.
The best one is Sarah, who has her reasons for not wanting to keep reliving this specific day, and brings some real energy to Nyles’ checked-out existence. She provides that chance at a connection he desperately needs. She wakes him up, just a little, from his repetition induced boredom by refusing to settle in to the routine of the day. She also pushes forward what plot there is. It isn’t much, but the movie gets enough from its stars that a lot of plot isn’t necessary. Plus, no amount of explanation is going to make a time loop make sense, so they’re better off giving as little as possible.
Samberg and Milioti have nice chemistry as two people who bond because, what else is there to do? Samberg is a funny comedic actor (so good on the cop sitcom Brooklyn 99) and Milioti, who I am not that familiar with, certainly holds her own. They play off of each other well, which is at least as important as being entertaining individually. As strong as they both are, Palm Springs works due to how likable they are as a duo. Whether they are sharing a sweet moment or messing with the other guests, they are very enjoyable to watch.
The screenplay is clever and the supporting cast (including J.K Simmons, Meredith Hagner and Peter Gallagher) is amusing in their (deliberately) one-dimensional roles. Though it is clearly offsetting Nyles’ hopelessness with Sarah’s determination, there aren’t philosophical conversations about the meaning of life. Palm Springs is deeper than it seems, without ever betraying its characters by having them discuss “big” issues. Most of all, it is a good time.
4 out of 5
Andy Samberg as Nyles
Cristin Milioti as Sarah
J.K. Simmons as Roy
Meredith Hagner as Misty
Directed by Max Barbakow
Written by Andy Siara