Many films have tried the stuck in a time loop (most recently, the Happy Death Day franchise). With Palm Springs, freshman director Max Barbakow decides to break up the monotony associated with many of these films by providing room for character-building moments, tons of Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, and many others the opportunity to be hilarious. That humor is the key to ultimately believing the weight of the journey Nyles (Samberg), and Sarah end up on together (Milioti).
Without giving too much away, Nyles (Samberg) and his younger girlfriend Misty (Hagner) are preparing for some sort of wedding, and something feels off from the get-go. Misty and Nyles start to have sex, but he just can’t focus. As the day goes on, he wears a Hawaiian shirt to the wedding, pops open several cans of beer during the ceremony. All of this would point to Nyles not really caring about the ceremony or the people involved in it. Sarah (Milioti), on the other hand, is the maid of honor “who drinks and fucks around too much.”, according to her family. However, her sister Tala (Camila Mendes) donated bone marrow to someone she barely knew. If you’re comparing those two, then yeah, Sarah definitely “fucks around too much”. Eventually, Nyles and Sarah bump into each other at the wedding, leading to Nyles hitting on her, despite the fact he’s already dating Misty. After some impromptu desert sex, things take a turn. Nyles is attacked and Sarah follows him inside (even though Nyles said not to), leading to the reveal that Nyles is stuck in a time loop.
How this time loop operates is revealed in bits and pieces. Nyles tried suicide. That didn’t work. He’s slept with everyone at the wedding multiple times include a groomsman. Nothing matters. He still wakes up to Misty every morning in that same hotel room nagging him to get dressed for a wedding he’s been to millions of times. When Sarah enters the loop, Nyles has reached a nihilistic phase of his relationship with the time loop. Life and time mean nothing to him. Whatever plans he hatches, his future will always be waking up to Misty. So, for forever he will be the life of the party, causing huge scenes, just to see what will happen. Sarah, however, decides that is not a life worth living, declaring “I don’t want tomorrow to be today. I want tomorrow to be tomorrow.”
How these efforts play out is one of the film’s best parts. Time loops stories are the reboots of the film industry. Every couple of years, there will be a new take on this classic concept. Whether it’s Groundhog Day, Looper, Happy Death Day, Deja Vu, they all end up the same way. Characters try gradually adjusting their behavior as they make mistakes, trying to find a way to escape the loop. While Palm Springs does borrow from these types of films, I would say it’s attempting to lay its own subgenre. The film often makes a habit of tricking the viewer into an expectation and then subverting them almost instantly, which is a massive credit to Andy Siara.
Simmon’s role in the film is difficult to discuss without discussing spoilers, but he’s one of the many subversions in this story. Dale Dickey shows up randomly at a biker bar, becoming one of the best parts of the movies outside of the people at the wedding. Nyles and Sarah’s relationship is like a car that could start any moment, but the carburetor or spark plugs are shot. What started as something casual as a way to escape becomes this almost brother & sister relationship. There are feelings there, but as soon as they reach the surface they are filled with anxiety and deep emotional pain. Is the relationship worth it in a reality where they’re always going to be the same age? Would they even care for each other in the real world? In Siara’s script, he makes sure that both sides of the relationship get their same level of complexity to them. This slow dance from a hookup into a relationship unfolds in a very human way.
Sandberg and Milioti deserve much of the credit for carrying this script onto the screen. The romantic comedy genre is not one I normally dabble in, but they made it enjoyable. Falling in love isn’t the goal of Sarah or Nyles when Palm Springs begins. Outside of the time loop, Nyles is dating someone he constantly mocks, and Sarah spends her time drinking herself to happiness and covering up any vulnerabilities with sarcasm.
Palm Springs is a romantic film, in a way that we don’t see to often. These two people have been hurt by lovers prior, they shut themselves off from happiness. Do this long enough, and you become a person you hate. We can’t wait for Prince Charming or Cinderella to make us feel loved, sometimes it takes a friend to listen to everything that’s hurt you to enable you to love again. Love comes with regret, fear, mistrust and a whole host of ugly emotions, and Palm Springs explores every nook and cranny.