'Palm Springs' Review: The Andy Samberg-Cristin Milioti sci-fi rom-com is undoubtedly one of 2020’s best films
'Palm Springs’ is a hilarious but sensitive story of human actions, their material consequences, and their emotional toll
Spoilers for ‘Palm Springs’
Directed by Max Barbakow, and written by Andy Siara, ‘Palm Springs’ is a romantic comedy that cranks things up a notch. Taking some well-deserved inspiration from the 1993 film ‘Groundhog Day’, and the 2019 Netflix series ‘Russian Doll’, this Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti-starrer is a ridiculously-smart “infinite time loop” story.
It starts at a wedding at the titular Palm Springs resort in the middle of the desert, where Nyles (Andy Samberg) appears to be an overtly-casual but nonetheless charming and smart guest. He gives a beautiful speech, even though he is one, not closely related to either the bride or the groom (he’s a bridesmaid’s boyfriend), and two, he is not at all formally dressed — he dons a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. He seems to be the life and soul of the party, the exact opposite of Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the bride’s elder sister. At some point, Sarah is charmed enough by the strange Nyles, and the two hook up. In the middle of the desert. But they were interrupted by a strange set of events.
A man shoots an arrow at Nyles and chases him across the desert. A scared and flabbergasted Sarah follows him to a cave that emits a red glow. As she follows a crawling Nyles inside, the latter warns her not to go any further. But before she could make sense of anything, Nyles gets sucked inside the red light. Shocked, she takes a step ahead, and she gets sucked in as well.
And this is where everything goes haywire for Sarah. She wakes up again, in the same bed she woke up the day of the wedding, but she knew something was up. She was reliving the day again. A bored Nyles explains to her what happened. And obviously, she doesn’t take too well to the fact that she’s caught in an infinite loop with Nyles.
With this premise set up (something that was already clear in the film’s trailer), the story then moves forward in a beautiful way. Exploring ideas of existentialism, absurdism, and the ideas of the human self, as described by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the film takes us through a proper journey of Sarah’s coming in terms with her new existence.
And while the philosophical aspects are beautifully done, what makes ‘Palms Springs’ equally compelling is the human, the emotional elements of it. Nyles slowly finds himself falling in love with Sarah. But she has her own demons. It turns out that the night before the wedding, she slept with Abe (Tyler Hoechlin), the to-be husband of her baby sister Tala (Camila Mendes). Thus, where Nyles woke up in his own bed every morning, Sarah woke up in Abe’s bed, making her relive this colossal mistake every day.
Eventually, this, combined with the fact that Nyles lied to her about the fact that they had hooked up several times before she was caught in the loop, drove Sarah to leave. And Nyles was left heart-broken. As a person who has given up on trying to find meaning in this random and chaotic universe, this brief flirtation with love destroys him doubly.
So much so, that he ends up even visiting Roy (JK Simmons), the man who chased him on that fateful night. It turns out that Nyles had, in a haze of drugs and alcohol, taken Roy to the cave, and he too was caught in the time loop. And he wasn’t grateful for it. But Roy explains to Nyles how he took some time to think and was no longer angry at him. He explains that he has much to be grateful for — his wife, his kids — and it wasn’t worth remaining angry.
Just as Nyles is almost about to submerge himself in his existential sorrow, Sarah appears with a way out. She had, all this while, been trying to figure out how to escape, taking lessons on quantum physics. And she had found a way. At first, Nyles is reluctant to leave — he felt institutionalized inside this time loop; comfortable in his own way — but ultimately he realizes he would want to live without Sarah. And they miraculously escape.
As much as it is a science fiction story, ‘Palm Springs’ is a hilarious but sensitive story of human actions, their material consequences, and their emotional toll. And it can’t be imagined with any other duo — Samberg and Milioti nail their roles. The film promised to be good and lived up to the expectations, and then some more. It is, undoubtedly, one of 2020’s best films.
‘Palm Springs’ is available for viewing on Hulu.