4.5 out of 5 stars

Palm Springs is best experienced without any knowledge of what happens, so fair warning, but the premise finds two strangers repeating the same day together. It takes its cue from Groundhog Day (1993), but focuses more on what it’s like living with your own damaged self. Directed by Max Barbakow, from a screenplay by Andy Siara, Palm Springs effortlessly mixes humour with soul-searching drama and romance.

Nyles (Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andy Samberg) is stuck in a temporal loop of a stranger’s wedding day at Palm Springs, Florida—the not-so-happy couple Tala (Riverdale’s Camila Mendes) and Abraham (Teen Wolf’s Tyler Hoechlin). As we’re introduced to Nyles, he’s already lived the same day hundreds of times over, so has reached the point where he doesn’t care what other people think about him. He’s secure in the knowledge the day will reset and the wedding guests won’t remember his bad behaviour.

Consequently, Nyles arrives at the wedding in a loud Hawaiian shirt, drinking excessively, and hijacking the speeches, before smoothly approaching the drunk maid of honour Sarah (How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti) and convincing her to sneak off with him to the nearby caves. The next time he wakes up, again on the same day, Sarah’s somehow joined his time-loop and she’s understandably furious to be spending her eternity with Nyles.

Palm Springs is smart enough to avoid many of the rom-com cliches. The film ponders whether sleeping together’s a good idea if you’re going to spend forever in each other’s company, and it even brings real-life logic into the equation, instead of relying on ‘movie logic’ where true love always triumphs and it’s easy to find a soulmate.

The subversion of Netflix’s Russian Doll premise goes further than the romantic tropes. Sarah, upon learning about the time-loop, tries every trick that she’s learned from pop culture that could break the cycle. Nyles, who’s spent the equivalent of years reliving the same day, is more resigned to his fate and has adopted a ‘nothing matters’ attitude because… well, nothing does matter. He parties, he hooks up with girls, he always ruins the wedding, and upsets everyone around him.

Sarah is a wonderfully layered character. She drinks too much and sleeps around, but Milioti balances this unapologetic party girl with someone who knows life is unsustainable. She knows that running away never solves any problems, but it’s so ingrained in her that she doesn’t know when to stop.

Contrastingly, Nyles is a nihilistic version of the likeable goofball Samberg’s come to be known for on television. He may look enviably zen from a distance (being effortlessly charming and relaxed company), but upon closer inspection his emotional avoidance and self-sabotage has caused invisible damaged to him.

The pair decide they are, mostly, better off together. The middle of the film examines their exploration of a carefree lifestyle most of us secretly pine for. A lot of comedy ensues as they exploit the fact there are no consequences to any of their actions. Screenwriter Andy Siara (Lodge 49) balances both characters perfectly, and Palm Springs is never preachy, nor does it pretend its leads will suddenly become perfect human beings. The romance is refreshingly pushed aside in favour of character development and an exploration of what it’s like to be damaged inside. The balance of wit, hilarity, and metaphysics rarely puts a foot wrong.

Although the depth of writing’s commendable, Samberg and Milioti are phenomenal and deserving of the most praise. Both known more for their comedy chops, they effortlessly jump between goofy humour and truer emotions, handling material that could easily have fallen into pretentiousness or self-indulgence. Nyles and Sarah are the most likeable onscreen couple of recent years. Their love story’s not as naïve as most recent fictional romances, nor do they have the outdated optimism of a Richard Curtis movie.

It’s no surprise Nyles and Sarah break down each other’s barriers, while battling their own personal demons. Palm Springs teaches us to look for a reason to get out of bed every day, no matter how small, and isn’t that a message we need right now?

Produced by The Lonely Island trio (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone), Palm Springs is surprisingly moving. Its existential and touching third act delves into some of life’s big questions without too much navel-glazing. There’s also something wonderfully ironic about Palm Springs going straight to streaming in the middle of a pandemic, as many of us have spent the past year waking up and going through the same routine every day ad nauseam.

Palm Springs covers the big topic of finding something to live for and the value of companionship, but with a unique goofiness mixed with unexpected poignancy. It may lack the side-splitting gags one expects from a Lonely Island movie, but it certainly challenges the nihilistic attitudes many of us fantasise about, and a loneliness we’ve all experienced.

USA • HONG KONG | 2020 | 90 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Max Barbakow.
writer: Andy Siara (story by Andy Siara & Max Barbakow).
starring: Andy Samberg, Crisitin Milioti, Peter Gallagher, J.K Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechin, Chris Pang, Jacqueline Obradors & June Squibb.