'Palm Springs' Preview: Like 'Russian Doll' and 'Groundhog Day', film must beat the emptiness of time loops
Like 'Russian Doll' and 'Groundhog Day', the Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti comedy too deals with infinite time loops. The real question, however, is what it intends to do with the idea
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti go to the same wedding. The two don’t know each other. Milioti’s Sarah sees Samberg’s Nyles at the wedding and finds him funny, weird, and charming. After all, he’s at a formal wedding in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, but he also gives a great, heartwarming toast, and he has the moves.
The two obviously have chemistry and ultimately hook up later that night in the middle of the desert. But before anything goes further, Samberg is shot by an arrow. And as he runs, being chased by a crazed old man called Roy (J. K. Simmons), Nyles enters a cave that has a weird red glow emerging from it. Sarah follows him, despite his warning not to. And she’s pulled into the red light.
The next thing we know: Sarah wakes up in the same hotel. The same chain of events keeps playing out. When she catches hold of Nyles and asks him what was going on, he very matter-of-factly tells her: they were caught in an infinite time loop.
‘Palm Springs’ does absolutely nothing to hide it's main plot point in it's trailer but it doesn’t need to. Neither does Amy Poehler, Natasha Lyonne and Leslye Headland’s critically-acclaimed 2019 Netflix series ‘Russian Doll’. Nor does Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy film ‘Groundhog Day’. None of them need to.
The concept of endless time loops is not new but it is what you do with it that matters. Like in ‘Russian Doll’, Lyonne’s Nadia tries to get to the bottom of why she is stuck, while the show eggs us to ask more existential questions. In ‘Groundhog Day’, Murray’s Phil, after getting a hang of things, just does whatever he wants to. That is, of course, until he falls in love with Rita (Andie MacDowell).
From the looks of the ‘Palm Springs’ trailer, the reason is already there. It’s a mysterious magical cave and there is nothing any of them can do about it. The moment they fall asleep or die, the loop starts again. So, what do they do? They go the Phil way and do anything and everything that comes to their mind. Nyles, who has been caught in the loop for longer, tells Sarah how he once took a bunch of crystal meth and made it all the way to Equatorial Guinea, a country in central Africa. He calls it a waste of time.
They have no endgame. So how does the film attempt to reach a conclusion? In ‘Russian Doll’, Nadia and Alan (Charlie Barnett) realize that they have to help each other when they find themselves in two different timelines. And it was only by helping each other that they fixed the time loop. In ‘Groundhog Day’, it’s Phil becoming a better person that ends the loop. Both shows use this magical realism to create an elaborate metaphor for how the main characters needed to face their inner selves, and fight their demons, and become better people.
Will ‘Palm Springs’ go the same way? Even though this has been done before, there is something intensely satisfying about this trope; if you can call this a trope. The time loops can either be seen as an absurdist way of portraying the innate meaninglessness of life or it can be used to move past the nihilistic ideas. It can motivate the characters to embrace the absurdism and make purpose even when it seemingly doesn’t exist.
The latter may be the better way to go. But who is to say, maybe ‘Palm Springs’ finds a third option.
‘Palm Springs’ will arrive on Hulu on July 10.