Much in the way Palm Springs looks at what is essential to living, it also feels like an essential entry into the subgenre of time loop movies. It pushes and pulls at a bevy of tropes, utilized and disregarded at just the right moment for this self-aware story that eschews much of what you’d expect from it.
In that sense, it’s almost hilariously of the Lonely Island ilk. (The trio produced the Andy Siara screenplay.) To sum up, Nyles (Andy Samberg) is stuck in an infinite loop of the same day when somewhere along the way of his (40-year) journey, he inadvertently loops in (ha!) Sarah (Cristin Milioti). At that point, they begin to learn to live with each other as they live over and over Sarah’s sister’s wedding day.
It’s a striking premise, and not just for the rather inventive, irreverent nature. Nyles, having been in the loop for a painfully long time, has become numb to the experience. He hasn’t accepted his fate; he’s given up, and it shows. Morning beers, the forever Aloha shirt, etc. (In many ways, the quintessential modern comedy lead, especially in the Age of Apatow.) But with that experience, he has learned a lot that Sarah has yet to even encounter.
He’s long since forgotten what his life before the loop was like, but he wakes up reminded every single day of what was wrong. His loveless relationship drives a painful stake into his heart with each sharp restart. And that drives him early on to make some decisions that he must then further live with in the ensuing days. And as far as time loops go, he’s the best-case scenario for the long term traveler.
But contrast that with Sarah, who also wakes up with her own troubles each morning. The difference being that these are largely of her own creation, being the irresponsible black sheep of the family. And once she’s in the loop, her acceptance skews to the same dark places as Nyles presumably did when he first wound up there, just as she pulls at the same initial desire to escape. He is what she has to look forward to in more ways than one.
It’s a beautiful juxtaposition for the narrative. You have these two characters taking their own baggage into a situation beyond their control that forces them to look headlong into their own problems day after day after day. Some of these are afflictions put upon them; others are at their own hands. But their reactions (or, in some cases, willful disregard) for those things manage to tell us so much about who they are without saying it explicitly.
That alone makes it a smarter movie than 94% of every other loosely edited improv scenes masquerading as a comedy. There’s a lot of trust in the audience to pay attention to everything the characters aren’t doing just as what they are doing. And it’s refreshing! It’s a rare filmgoing experience that you are allowed to make judgment calls on what you are seeing.
Which is kind of the thesis of the whole story. It asks a lot of questions of the characters on what makes life essential. When you wake up each morning, you are gifted a new day, unlike these two hapless fools. And your reaction tells you as much about yourself as theirs tell you about them. Do you ponder regrets? Do you ruminate on what it is about that difference you take for granted? Are you perhaps tinged with jealousy?
By asking them some questions about their nature, it has you ask yourself questions as well on what makes life essential. Some of them are stock to the story. To what extent, for instance, do those around you influence you in how you live your life? Whether purposefully or positively or whatever, there’s a gravitational force between every person, and that only ever impacts your personal path as well as theirs. Just some people are in closer orbit than others.
A lot of this works because of the two leads. Samberg manages to ride that line of apathetic and simply apart. He’s never cruel in his explanation of Sarah’s new life and he doesn’t seem malicious in his treatment of these people who will never remember his actions; it’s more that he’s calloused to it. The lolling head of a Prometheus several millennia into his torment. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that his comedic timing is as impeccable as ever.
Milioti similarly works wonders. Her desire to break out of the loop never reeks of abject desperation, which would just be exhausting to watch. It’s always of the air of an irrepressible Fuck You. She simply snaps onscreen, cracking into her character with an enviable enthusiasm. And combined with Samberg, their chemistry goes beyond the usual Hollywood sexual romance. God do they look like they’re just having fun.
That’s not to say, however, that it is a flawless film. For as much as it goes the Looper route of saying fuckit there’s a time loop, the whole last act is entirely dependent on the minutiae of said temporal mechanics. It’s a hard left turn for a movie that, at some point, does, well, something wonderfully irresponsible that I won’t ruin but is so completely incongruous with the story that it almost doesn’t work but it does precisely because we don’t ask how the loop works.
But for the late structural problems and some other minor quibbles, there’s a boundless appreciation to be had for just how invigorating an initial viewing of this movie can be. It’s fun, it’s fresh, and it’s whimsical, skirting the line between wholly lighthearted and mired in philosophical considerations. For the rosters of time loop movies and summer comedies and romcoms and just generally good times, Palm Springs is a worthwhile entrant.
Final Score: 9 out of 10