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‘Palm Springs’ Needs More Credit As A Modern Classic


For those of you who haven’t seen Palm Springs on Hulu, do yourself a favor and set 90 minutes aside to indulge in one of the goofiest yet smartest fantasy rom-coms in years (very popular genre, I know). The film stars Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother), and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and tells the story of a pair that develops a romance while stuck in an infinite time loop at a destination wedding. I believe this is one of the funniest films to come out in the last five years or so. Samberg and Milioti have amazing chemistry and the brand of humor is very much in line with what we’ve come to expect from Samberg and The Lonely Island crew.

I had this in my top five films of 2020 when it came out (though admittedly it was pretty slim pickings that year) and after re-watching it for the first time last night I’m shocked that the film hasn’t resonated more with the general public. The only reason I could imagine why is accessibility. It’s a Hulu release from over two years ago at this point and if there’s any streaming platform that knows how to bury its best content, it’s Hulu. But I like this movie too much to sit idly by and not let the masses know why everyone should see this film.

And heeeeeeere we go:

It’s 90 Minutes

A common reasoning as to why people don’t watch movies or shows is the time commitment. Movies have gotten longer and longer over the years so every time a shorty comes out like this one it’s always refreshing and leaves the masses asking for more content like this. It’s a dying art but believe it or not there’s a demand for talented people having a blast with a minimalist concept.

It’s a fast 90 minutes too. There isn’t a wasted scene in this film and it respects the fact the viewers have seen enough of the “same day over and over” genre that there’s little time explaining why or what is happening beyond the basics. At the beginning of the film Nyles (Samberg) and Roy (Simmons) are already in the time loop but seeing how Sarah (Milioti) getting sucked in and her initial reaction is enough explanation for the viewer to understand what it going on. It’s all done in a fun way as well as opposed to something like Groundhog Day which goes to extensive lengths to show what is happening. Once the boundaries are established, it’s all about showing off the short-term joys of living life without consequences which leads to some of the biggest laughs of the movie.

It Blends Genres Seamlessly

At its core Palm Springs is a comedy, a very silly one at that. That being said, it’s not without its heavy moments. Part of Sarah’s exposure to the time loop and realization that there’s no escaping it is the fact that Nyles has to quickly teach her that the memories of bodily harm and physical and emotional damage to others doesn’t go away the next day, it’s something we they have to live with forever. Nyles is constantly remembering various ways he’s died, been tortured, drugs he’s taken, sexual encounters, and even his relationships with everyone at the wedding. Once Sarah comes to the realization there’s no escaping the pain she feels by being surrounded by her mistakes she begins searching for a way out.

While the budding romance between the two protagonists is a key element of the film, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a straight up romantic comedy. That doesn’t take away from the chemistry that Samberg and Milioti have. I enjoy it the most when Nyles is introducing Sarah to her new reality but the way they gravitate to each other more and more is pretty special to see. It’s a fairly honest depiction of two people who need each other even if they want different things. I also implore anyone not to swoon over Nyles’ “one sentence” monologue in the final act. Emphatic period.

There’s also a fantasy/sci-fi element to the film as well beyond the principle concept. What’s nice about this though is that the film makes little to no effort to bog down the story and the characters with the logistics of where they are or how they got there. Once Sarah sets off on her journey to find a way out we know she starts reading books on quantum theory and the viewer is left to assume she studies this for some time and eventually just becomes an expert on the matter. We don’t know what she learned, just that she learned it. There’s also no explanation for the cave that sent them all into the loop in the first place. All we know is that it’s there and it kicks off the time loop. Not watering down Sarah and Nyles’ story with an attempt to explain how any of this is possible is one of the best decisions the film makes, assuming the viewer understands a familiar concept and acknowledging the details don’t matter.

The Story Is Equally Tight Yet Open Ended

Something I picked up on the second time around was just how much the director (Max Barbakow) leaves open to interpretation. For example: the dinosaurs. Are they real? What we believe is a hallucination earlier in the film comes back for the final frames and leaves us wondering if they ever managed to really escape the loop. Another great one that I completely missed was Nana (June Squibb) at the wedding. After Nyles and Sarah make toasts at the wedding (on separate days) Sarah’s grandmother comes up to them and tells them its the greatest toast she’s ever heard and that she’s seen more weddings that she can remember. This implies that perhaps Nana is in the time loop as well, she just chooses to enjoy the wedding with her family every day. There’s plenty of other questions like this that the film presents: how long as Nyles been there? How many times/how often does Roy hunt Nyles? Did Sarah’s plan at the end work?

Despite the ambiguity of the film there’s no fat to trim on the script. Every scene pushes the story forward while giving the viewer just enough information to process everything. Both characters have a simple, yet satisfying, arc and keeping the ensemble cast to a minimum keeps the focus on Sarah and Nyles’ relationship which is where the heart of the movie really lies. Plus, there’s a mid-credits scene that warms the heart and J.K. Simmons’ smile will resonate with you long after the credits roll.

Great Acting All Around

I remember watching Andy Samberg’s first episode on Saturday Night Live when I was a kid. He and Bill Hader, also in his first episode, got in an impression competition on Weekend Update and all of Samberg’s impressions were essentially “I’m so and so, I’m in lots of movies, I do this, this, and this. WAZZUP?!?!” and I just thought it was so fucking funny. Seeing his body of work on SNL and films like Hot Rod, Seven Days in Hell, and Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping in addition to all his incredible work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine I can honestly say I’ve never seen Samberg like this. Yes, there’s plenty of that goofy man-child we all know from The Lonely Island but he brings some dramatic chops to this we’ve never seen from him. It’s not like seeing Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love but there are definitely a few moments that make you wonder where that guy came from. In fact I’d even go as far to say it was worthy of an Oscar nomination. Hard to argue he shouldn’t have beat out Gary Oldman (Mank) or Steven Yeun (Minari) for a spot at the table.

Cristin Milioti has never been better than she is in Palm Springs. I’ll admit I haven’t seen a ton of her work but from what I’ve seen in Fargo, The Wolf of Wall Street, Black Mirror, and How I Met Your Mother it’s obvious she’s an incredibly talented actress and this film should be her crowning achievement to date. The way she plays Sarah is both endearing and relatable as someone who’s clearly made mistakes but wants to better herself. Her arc in this film is one of the highlights and unlike Samberg I’m positive she should have nabbed a Best Actress nomination.

In case it wasn’t obvious by this point, I love this movie. If you’ve seen it before, do yourself a favor and pull it up from the Hulu archives and give it a second watch. If you haven’t seen it then why the hell would you read this far? You were warned about spoilers, were you not? Fool.

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  1. Casual Rex – December 9th – Too Much Popcorn

    […] made a case earlier this week as to why this film deserves more credit as a modern classic and I can’t recommend it enough. […]


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