Nyles (Andy Samberg) is in Palm Springs (I assume – the title might have you believe this is of even the slightest importance, but it’s really not, could be anywhere) for a wedding. His girlfriend is a bridesmaid and he’s her plus one, which doesn’t quite account for just how uninvested he is in the proceedings. Even if you’re not close to the couple, you generally want to be respectful of their big day. Nyles shows up in a bad Hawaiian shirt, pops beers all ceremony long, and then hijacks the maid of honour’s speech to the bride. You can’t quite pinpoint how or why Nyles seems just a little bit off, but he is, considerably, and yet when he directs his charm toward the bride’s sister and maid of honour, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), even she seems unable to resist, and she doesn’t appear to be having a great day herself.
What gives? Turns out, it’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about. You know, like Groundhog Day? And a dozen other copycats, none of worth mentioning? Yeah, like that. Nyles has been reliving the same day over and over for goodness knows how long (you know who does know? The screenwriter. Excellent source. His answer: about 40 years. Forty fucking years!). Anyway, after a particularly nice day spent with Sarah, she follows him into the time loop cave of doom despite him cautioning her not to. The rest isn’t so much history as an infinite present. Nyles has 40 years of this under his belt, so he’s given himself over completely to nihilism (hence the Hawaiian shirt), but Sarah is new enough to the game to be fed by her anger, resentment, and frustration. She wants out, and she’s so determined to solve or win the time loop, she’ll try anything, including but not limited to: exploding an innocent goat, getting hit by a truck, making the ultimate sacrifice, and learning quantum physics.
Time loop movies are a dime a dozen and I haven’t liked a single one since Bill Murray, but now, suddenly, there are two. Like Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is a rom-com of sorts, or perhaps an anti-rom-com – there is no worse romance killer, not even death, than too much time together. But one man’s existential crisis is another man’s pure entertainment. Samberg and Milioti not only have a viable chemistry, she brings a darkness that balances Samberg’s goofball energy perfectly so that, despite the extreme challenge to mental health in this film, we don’t fly off the deep end of either side of the continuum, but we do enjoy a sliding scale of extremes and a lot of laughs because of it. Writer Andy Siara keeps us intrigued with a script that is unpredictable and unexpected, but most of all coated in well-earned giggles that are executed perfectly by the cast, including JK Simmons as Roy, someone else caught in the infinite loop thanks to Nyles, and not super gracious about it either. Siara and director Max Barbakow work well together to subvert our expectations and challenge what we think we know about rom-coms.
Palm Springs was bought by Hulu at Sundance for a record-setting sum: 17.5 million dollars and 69 cents. The 69 cents set the record; Birth of a Nation held it before this, and that turned out to be a bit of a debacle, didn’t it? But Palm Springs was a great investment for Hulu, becoming the most-streamed in its first weekend Hulu had ever seen. Since Canada doesn’t have Hulu, it is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, and that’s a good thing, because Palm Springs is one of the brightest spots in an otherwise dull year.