Review by EJ Argenio, NRFTW Correspondent
At the start of 2020, before lockdowns and quarantines, one of film’s biggest festivals, Sundance, showcased films from around the world without conflict. Part of the programming included the comedy-romance Palm Springs, which not only screened but also sold for a Sundance record-breaking price to indie-distributor Neon and Hulu. The intention for the sale was to take Palm Springs into theaters across the U.S. via Neon and to have Hulu as the film’s home for streaming. This plan never came to fruition as theaters closed and remained that way due to the pandemic. Instead, Palm Springs would head straight to Hulu and be available to audiences everywhere.
Hulu’s latest comedy-romance, Palm Springs centers around Nyles played by Andy Samberg (Brooklyn 99), a wedding guest who is caught in the middle of a time loop that forces him to infinitely relive the same day over again. Having given up hope of ever ending his curse, Nyles accepts his circumstance and staggeringly goes about each day despite knowing the outcome. All of that changes when he unintentionally gets the sister of the bride, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), caught inside the paradox forcing the two closer as they work together to get back to a reality where the concept of the future still exists.
Nyles has been living the exact same day for a very long time, so long that he can no longer provide an educated guess as when it all started. He doesn’t even remember what he does for a living. We also learn his loop began when he encountered a scientific anomaly in a nearby cave on the night of the wedding. Having been already stuck for an incalculable amount of time, he feels as though he has exercised all of his options, including death, to end his torment. However, Nyles explains to Sarah that while the pain is real, the death isn’t. He still wakes up reliving the same day. After a few attempts herself, Sarah comes to the same realization.
Forced to live in a world without consequence, Nyles and Sarah become entangled in the absurd. Together they find new ways to cope with their “lives” visiting nearby hangouts, drinking way too much and finding various ways to disrupt the wedding reception. These methods work when enhancing the comedy within the film, but do nothing for the characters. Eventually the laughter has to stop and when it does, it brings our characters to a pause. Nyles is full of so much unexplored conflict. There are hints that he has intimacy issues and doesn’t take real life seriously. However, we never know if that’s who he really is or if this because of living in repetition. Midway through the film, Sarah really begins to press Nyles for some of these answers but to no avail. That’s where things get murky. The film is about Nyles, yet we know and learn more about Sarah. She is the dysfunctional older sister of the bride whose mother passed when she was young. Drinking and sleeping around helps her cope with her pain. When you factor in this information, her character becomes more interesting. However, more time is focused on Nyles, a character lacking depth with lackluster answers surrounding who he really is as a person. His motives are so unclear that he wavers at the possibility of finding a way to a true tomorrow. When it comes to Sarah, Nyles believes he loves her, but she questions his feelings.
Aside from all of this, the film’s biggest issue is the time loop itself and why it exists. The film never addresses that point at all outside of saying that there was an earthquake that revealed the entrance to a cave made up of a universal mystery. Terms like “time loop” and “the multiverse” are conveniently thrown around but they don’t hold much weight within the story. Later in the film, audiences again must focus on Sarah who resorts to learning physics to come up with a solution. Her enlightenment is shown to audiences via a montage sequence which is not only lazy, but ends up being a very important part of the film. Does that mean she’s our protagonist? It’s anyone’s guess.
It definitely lacks the character development seen in other films of this nature, specifically Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. What’s the difference between Palm Springs and Groundhog Day? The answer is simple, the character Phil Connors.
From the start of Groundhog Day we know who Connors is and what he wants. He grows and changes throughout the film, and because of the time loop he becomes a better person. Simple as that. Seeing his transformation, and his comedic missteps along the way, is why the film remains relevant after all these years.
There are elements that make Palm Springs the cute comedy-romance it wants to be. We want to get sucked in and feel the connection grown between Nyles and Sarah, but there is too much else to focus on. It would have been better to be given answers during the film, rather than having more questions after it. Nevertheless, it is still quarantine. Doesn’t this feel like we are caught in our own time loop at this point? No better time than to mix things up and watch Palm Springs which is available to stream now on Hulu.