“Palm Springs,” 2020, directed by Max Barbakow – 4/5 Stars
It might seem like the “time loop” trope has been tired out by now. “Groundhog Day,” “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Happy Death Day” have all attempted to combine different genres with the familiar premise, each with varying levels of success. At this point, many dedicated moviegoers are just as tired of seeing characters relive the same day as the characters are themselves. “Palm Springs,” though, is not tiring. It is not exactly revolutionary, but it entertains for the duration of its short runtime, largely thanks to the wholehearted performances and fantastic chemistry between its two co-stars, Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg. While the core ideas of “Palm Springs” borrow heavily from other films within the “time loop” subcategory, director Max Barbakow constructs something surprisingly refreshing, especially in a world of endless, forgettable originals on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Heads up, this review contains spoilers.
The story begins with Sarah and Nyles — played by Milioti and Samberg, respectively — on the morning of Sarah’s sister’s wedding. The film quickly establishes some base ideas, the first being that Nyles’ relationship with his current girlfriend Misty — played by Meredith Hagner — is doomed. Misty is annoying, materialistic and, as we soon discover, cheating on Nyles with another wedding guest. The next thing the audience learns is that Sarah does not want to be at the wedding. She is a borderline alcoholic and feels like a failure compared to her successful, beautiful sister — played by Camila Mendes, who you might recognize from the popular TV series “Riverdale.” All this is shown in a humorous, succinct fashion within the first half hour of the movie. Not all the jokes land, but even the less funny ones are saved by the comedic delivery from the two leads. The first 30 minutes, while fun, are pretty straightforward, and what follows may surprise viewers expecting a straightforward rom-com.
An unexpected variable is added when Sarah and Nyles sneak away to the beach, and Nyles is shot with an arrow by a man dressed in all black. Injured, Nyles crawls into a cave and enters a glowing, orange portal, warning Sarah not to follow him. Sarah does, of course, follow him, thus forcing her to repeatedly relive the same day alongside Nyles. The rest of the film proceeds as one might expect; the two main characters go on a journey of self-discovery, face their own mistakes, fall in love and, eventually, free themselves from the monotony. There are plenty of twists and turns within that familiar plot, though, and the bright color scheme and almost surreal tone help set the movie apart from its influences.
Also worth noting is the performance from Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, who appears as the aforementioned man dressed in black, armed with a bow and arrow. Simmons plays Roy, another wedding guest who entered the portal with Nyles when they were high on drugs together and, angry with Nyles, has been trying to torture him as revenge since. While the character on the surface is callous and morbid, Simmons delivers a surprisingly funny spin, solidifying himself as one of the film’s highlights.
“Palm Springs” borrows from lots of other movies and, at points, too much. Still, there is not a movie quite like it. It does not take itself too seriously and delivers its fun, simple, story with a lot of heart and plenty of laughs.