It’s worth remembering that the script for Groundhog Day was, like, way darker than the final movie; the idea of a day endlessly repeating, and how that might feel for those trapped within it, has got legs. Remakes and sequels haven’t followed, and that’s a good thing, but the potential mileage is obvious, and it would be churlish to begrudge Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs a fresh take on the story. While the central idea is the same, there’s enough twists and spins put on the notion to give Andy Siara’s script a flavour all of its own.
Thankfully, things start in media res; Nyles (Andy Samberg) has been negotiating a dismal wedding for the thousandth time when he hooks up with Sarah (Cristin Milioti). She’s maid of honor at her sister’s wedding, but there’s not much honor around; Nyles has pretty much slept with everyone and everything in the room as he explores every potential possibility of the day. Sarah takes Nyles’s confessions of his exploits as verbatim, and decides that she might as well join in with his studied time-wasting. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, the duo form an alliance against a pointless world, but the idea of escaping back to reality never quite goes away…
Palm Springs is a likable film, even though it allows the central characters to act out; Nyles has taken every drug, and acts in a thoroughly self-ish manner that Sarah initially adopts. But there’s a metaphorical strength in the way that Sarah comes to resent and challenge the solipsistic nature of Nyles’ existence, and the film draws lines of development according to sex. Milioti and Samberg both have the chops for comedy/drama from their on-going sitcoms, and Palm Springs is funny enough to endure. Less successful is a subplot involving JK Simmons as Nyles’ lawman adversary; when your sci-fi movie barely addresses sci-fi, then plot holes tear at the seams, and the conclusion here is satisfying in terms of character rather than plot.
Ironically, the deliberate lack of meaning in Palm Springs has been negated by the effects of the worldwide pandemic; every day feels remarkably similar in lockdown, and it’s perhaps easier to relate to Nyles and Sarah’s nihilistic dwam than the film-makers might have expected. Like it or loathe it, and both reactions would be comprehensible, Palm Springs is one of the key films of the plague years, an unromantic, caustic rom-com which rolls over to reveal grown-up, idealistic sentiment, but only after pigging out in cheerfully anarchic style.
After many delays, Palm Springs is due on Amazon Prime on April 9th in the UK.
Thanks to Amazon for advance screener access to this film.