An irreverent romantic comedy headlined by earnest performances from Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, “Palm Springs” approaches modern romance with a paradoxically enticing mixture of sarcasm and apathy.
Released on Hulu July 10, Max Barbakow’s directorial debut follows Nyles (Samberg), a malcontent young man attending a wedding as his girlfriend’s plus one, and Sarah (Milioti), the bride’s lonely older sister. After a romantic night together, Sarah witnesses Nyles’ apparent death, and looking to investigate, finds that the two of them are trapped in a time loop, forced to repeat the wedding day “Groundhog Day” style.
The screenplay — “Lodge 49” writer Andy Siara’s feature debut — has some clever wrinkles regarding the film’s sci-fi premise, but the film is made by Samberg and Milioti’s strong performances. Samberg’s slapstick, in-your-face style is a perfect fit for Nyles. His flamboyant arrogance is a logical trait for a man trapped in an infinite time loop, coming off less like a farce and more like cynicism jaded to the point of absurdity.
Milioti, best known for her work as the titular mother in “How I Met Your Mother,” performs her role in the margins of Samberg’s leading role, but her emotional range is impressive and her comedic timing gives Samberg a surprising run for his money.
The film’s biggest success is its comedic depiction of mental exhaustion. A dark topic to milk comedy from, but like “Groundhog Day” (Harold Ramis, 1993), the film’s laughs come from the desperation, despair and eventual apathy the characters experience in the loop. Where “Groundhog Day” follows Bill Murray as a disgruntled reporter covering the titular holiday in a small town, this film gleans the same repetitive atmosphere using dead relationships and an image-obsessed wedding guest list.
The film’s darkly comic worldview is nothing groundbreaking, but in the throes of coronavirus, Nyles and Sarah’s efforts to find meaning in their situation, or at least some way out, resonate more now than ever.
Like many other time loop movies, the film ultimately concludes that love is both the situational meaning and the way out, and Samberg and Milioti are skilled at both sides of the rom-com genre. The current pandemic effectively underscores the companionship of the film’s characters, giving these moments added weight.
Still, the film’s best moments are its deranged comedy. Laughs come from the familiar time loop topics (romantic partners, elaborate pranks, etc.), but also from welcome surprises like J.K. Simmons as Roy, a wedding guest who Nyles pulled into the loop. Now, Roy hunts and kills Nyles a few times a week as payback. The film’s apathetic worldview adds a layer of surrealism to the whole affair, and gags like Roy or Nyles’ morning routine with his girlfriend accentuate the film’s peculiar energy.
One of the first films to come out that feels reminiscent of the coronavirus era, the film succeeds by keeping things light. On top of all the convoluted emotional issues this quarantine has and will force us to reckon with, “Palm Springs” provides what we most need at this moment in time: a moment to relax.
“Palm Springs,” rated R, is now available on Hulu.