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Review: Palm Springs

February 25, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Palm Springs, the new time loop romantic comedy from the Lonely Island guys, is a film that takes many of its cues from the 1993 classic Groundhog Day, a work so iconic that it’s title has become shorthand for every other story of this type.

Andy Samberg, who also produced the film with fellow Lonely Island members Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, stars in Palm Springs as Nyles, a cynical man who finds himself forced to repeat the same day over and over again. Except instead of February 2nd à la Bill Murray, the date Nyles is doomed to repeat is November 9th, and the setting is a soul-crushing wedding in Palm Springs.

The film, which was a big hit at Sundance last year and is now up for two Golden Globes including Best Picture – Musical or Comedy, opens with Nyles waking up in a hotel next to his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner). It’s her friend Tala’s (Camila Mendes) wedding, and Nyles is just going through the motions, having already lived this day many times before. He has entered the phase of just having fun with his unusual predicament, using his chance at seemingly infinite do-overs to make baller wedding speeches, get drunk, and hook up with different guests.

On this particular night, Nyles tries to hook up with the sister of the bride, Sarah Wilder (Cristin Milioti), a free-spirit who is the black sheep of her family. When their night gets interrupted by a madman (J.K. Simmons) shooting bows and arrows, Nyles escapes into a glowing cave. Sarah follows him in, and wakes up the next morning aware of the fact the she is reliving the same day over again, suddenly cognizant of the time loop. As Nyles and Sarah start to fall in love, she becomes desperate to stop the loop in order to spend more than just one day together.

Directed by Max Barbakow, working from a screenplay by Andy Siara that makes the clever choice to have two people aware they are trapped in a time loop instead of just one, Palm Springs is a film that works because it mainly just tries to have fun with its tried and true premise. Somewhat interestingly, the film also chooses to just drop us right into the time loop without showing us when it began, which, incidentally, is how the script for Groundhog Day originally opened before they decided to change it for the film. It’s a choice that works here, allowing us to get right down to business.

The film is simply very entertaining to watch, and it plays with a unique brand of humour that will be familiar to Lonely Island fans. Yes, there is some talk of philosophy and quantum physics, but Siara’s script strikes a good balance between giving us just enough in terms of the sci-fi mechanics, without getting too bogged down in the details. On a slightly deeper level, it also functions as an allegory of depression or anxiety, and how it sucks you into feeling like nothing will ever change.

Samberg is quite good here as a man who has become cynical from his situation, but probably wasn’t that different before, with his droll comic delivery being put to great use. But it’s Milioti who feels like the breakout star, portraying a love interest who is quirky without coming across like a subservient manic pixie dream girl. Sarah pulls her weight alongside Nyles, and will think nothing of ripping into him, which makes their relationship highly satisfying to watch develop. Samberg and Milioti also have great chemistry together, which is one of the biggest strengths of the film.

Simmons rounds out the cast with his memorable supporting role as this grizzled older man that Nyles keeps encountering who is out for blood. He also delivers one of the film’s most oddly poignant scenes in the second half. While Palm Springs doesn’t quite reach the heights of Groundhog Day, it’s still one of the better movies to utilize the time loop formula. The film keeps it fresh with some clever riffs on the genre and a very specific brand of dark humour, which feels well suited to its high concept setup.

Palm Springs is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in Canada.

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