In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, one movie received a nice buzz before and after its debut on Hulu, Palm Springs. This time travel romantic comedy stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons, where two wedding guests develop a romance while trapped in a time loop that has them live the same day over and over again. Since its debut at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the Groundhog Day-inspired comedy has been all the rage in tinsel town. Palm Springs was purchased by Hulu and Neon Films in the biggest deal in Sundance history. The comedy received a strong 95% on rotten tomatoes and even garnered two Golden Globe nominations: Best Motion Picture for a musical or comedy and Best Lead Actor in a Best Motion Picture.
While it didn’t walk out with the golden statue that evening, there’s no denying the buzz around the low-budget independent title. So, with all the praise and accolades that Palm Springs has received, is this time loop comedy all that cracked to be? Let’s dive deeper into this zany 2020 comedy. In 2020, the time loop concept is nothing new. In 1984, The Terminator was actually the first film to bring the time travel concept to the cinema, with Back to the future taking a vastly different approach to the genre a year later. Six years later, the first time travel loop movie was created, Groundhog Day, and the film is considered an all-time classic like The Terminator and Back to the Future. Since then, a handful of Groundhog Day-inspired movies has been released. Some good (Edge of Tomorrow, 12 Monkeys) and some bad (Love. Wedding. Repeat, Naked). Luckily, Palm Springs falls into the former category.
Smartly, Andy Siara and Max Barbakow use the low budget to their advantage, by focusing the film on its characters than top-notch special effects. This movie falls on the backbone of Nyles and Sarah, and Adam Samberg and Cristin Miliotri have amazing chemistry with one another. Their relationship feels real because the actors shine every time they’re on screen together. The set-up for their budding relationship is pretty good, with Nyles having a scumbag girlfriend whose clearly cheating on him and Sarah being the lovely angel that she is by sleeping with her sister’s future husband. While the latter doesn’t necessarily put Sarah in the best light, the film does a great job of highlighting the loneliness of her character and the emotional journey she goes on is a rewarding experience. The overall premise feels fresh and there’s plenty of humor and heart displayed throughout the film. Fresh into the time loop situation, the film has fun with the concept; Whether it’s Sarah’s failed attempted at suicide to Nyles pretending to take out a bomb at the wedding, there’s no shortage of original ideas.
Despite the main location being in Palm Springs, the visual images of the movie never feel repetitive or tired. Don’t get me wrong, Palm Springs is not the prettiest film you’ll ever see, but the time loop comedy isn’t trying to be a glowing showcase of Palm Springs, California. Of course, I can’t go through the entire article without talking about J.K. Simmons’s character, Roy; Not surprisingly, Simmons is awesome as the enemy/friend of Nyles. His introduction into the plot is insane, but once we sit down and understand Roy, he helps the underlying message of the film. The quieter moments between him and Nyles are some of the stronger aspects of the film and the actors bounce off each other effortlessly. In terms of the time loop aspect, it never feels tiresome, which is a huge plus. The time loop actually aids in the development of Nyles and Sarah, and the filmmakers wisely don’t go overall board with that concept.
Of course, Palm Springs isn’t a perfect film. Andy’s superficial girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner), is too on-the-nose here. While the purpose of bumping up the superficial woman to 100 is clear, the writer’s should’ve made her disdain for Nyles a little more nuanced. It’s baffling that Andy would even want to be in the same room with her because Misty isn’t shy about telling Andy that he isn’t in her league. There are some funny moments with the Misty character, but a little subtlety goes a long way. All-in-all, Palm Springs is a great movie. Is it the best comedy you’ll ever see? No, but it’s definitely one of the most original and funny rom-coms to come out in some time. The energy of Palm Springs is infectious and it’s hard to not have a smile on your face once the end credits roll.