If I told you I’d just watched a movie about a couple stuck in a time loop – how, for them, every day begins in the same way and that, every time they fall asleep, they wake up to find that they’re right back where they started, you’d doubtless nod and say, ‘Oh, yeah, Groundhog Day. Seen that.’ But Palm Springs unabashedly takes that same central premise and runs with it, taking the concept into fresh terrain – and manages to do so without once feeling like a rip off. Furthermore, with pretty much the whole world stuck in a repetitious pandemic loop, where every day is depressingly similar to its predecessor, the film seems eerily prescient.
This is the story of Nyles (Andy Samberg), who’s at the titular resort with his odious girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner), and forced to spend every single day of his life reliving a wedding. The bride-to-be is Misty’s sister, Tala (Camila Mendes); the groom is Abe (Tyler Hoechlin). Let’s face it, if you have to repeat an experience over and over for the rest of your days, somebody else’s family’s wedding isn’t going to figure highly on your bucket list. Nyles has been stuck in this loop for as long as he can remember, ever since wandering into a mysterious cave in the desert, and he’s resigned himself to creating as much variety as he can within these narrow limits, in the certain knowledge that if things start to go badly wrong, he can just step in front of a truck and start over.
But then he begins a flirtation with Tala’s sister, Sarah (Christina Miloti), who follows him into the cave and promptly finds herself trapped in the same dire situation. Determined not to amble along in the same accepting fashion as Nyles, she immediately attempts to disrupt the process that he has long ago accepted as his norm – and things begin to get really strange. Palm Springs is a sprightly, good natured confection, that never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. On the contrary, it gallops along, making its one hour, thirty minute running time fly by almost too quickly. Samberg and Miloti are an appealing duo – Milotti in particular exerts a persuasive, kooky charm – and there’s a cameo by the ever reliable J.K. Simmons as Roy, a man who from time to time enjoys hunting down – and killing – Nyles with a bow and arrow. (Don’t ask.)
While it’s played mostly for laughs, Palm Springs does posit an intriguing question. Are people really destined to be together forever? Or, as Nyles argues, is it better for them to have fun for a while and then head off in opposite directions to seek their own new horizons? And, when confronted by his unexpected feelings for Sarah, how can he ever hope to stick to his convictions?
It’s refreshing in these troubled times to find a film that doesn’t bog itself down in too many complications. My advice is simply to buckle in and enjoy the ride. It will take you to some unexpected places.