Most films that play with infinite time loops as their narrative hook inevitably find themselves compared to 1993’s much-loved Groundhog Day. And though such films since then have broken the mould as much as they can regarding the premise on hand – the Tom Cruise actioner Edge of Tomorrow and the horror/comedy Happy Death Day the most prominent examples – Max Barbakow‘s fantasy rom-com Palm Springs pushes more than enough boundaries to really earn its place as its own entity.
There’s a similar story at hand, but a unique location, the utterly charming lead duo of Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, and a healthy smattering of both humour and intelligence gives the film a certain freshness that feels entirely original despite the present familiarity. It really all comes down to the simplest of narrative tweaks too – why focus on one person’s hellish time loop experience when you can focus on two?
When we first meet Samberg’s Nyles at the wedding of Abe (Tyler Hoechlin) and Tala (Camila Mendes), there’s an oddness to his ceremony behaviour and attire. Drinking too much whilst swanning about in swimming trunks and a Hawaiian shirt, he appears far too aloof to truly care about how his actions could be perceived, and there’s a good reason for that, one that Tala’s black sheep sister Sarah (Milioti) rather unwillingly uncovers; Nyles has been stuck in a time loop for an infinite amount of time, and she’s unfortunately about to join him.
Bonding over copious amounts of consumed alcohol and their shared tragic states of existence – Nyles is now all too familiar with his girlfriend’s infidelity, whilst Sarah’s “liability” label from her family have given way for her to indulge in bad choices – a night that is likely to end in a desert-side tryst ends in confused disaster when Nyles is ambushed by the crossbow-bearing Roy (J.K. Simmons). Roy’s anger at Nyles becomes imminently apparent, whilst Sarah all-too quickly accepts her fate as his loop companion as she catches up to speed on what can and can’t happen in their time continuum; the desire to want to kill yourself to escape the loop is one not worth pursuing, as you will ultimately still feel pain and simply wake up at the beginning of the day.
Setting the film at a wedding certainly allows the story to have a little bit of fun as to what Nyles and Sarah do when they both embrace their situation, but it’s the moments they travel outside their ceremonial duties that really liven Palm Springs‘ proceedings up. The Andy Siara-penned script isn’t afraid to go absurd when necessary, nor does it always keep things light, but the pitch perfect comedic timing of Samberg and Milioti consistently keeps the film incredibly investing.
Seemingly enjoying the fact that it constantly tests the limits of its concept throughout its brisk 90 minute running time, Palm Springs is an earnest, heartfelt film that’s both emotionally mature and comedically youthful. Choosing to place its focus on Nyles and Sarah, both perfectly imperfect characters we immediately embrace, leaves any of the butterfly effect science to dust, instead opting to be a film that preaches its message of embracing the unknown with an open mind rather than a heavy hand.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Palm Springs will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday November 20th 2020.