With movie theaters closed, many studios have decided to release current-run movies out for streaming and download. I caught up with the newest romantic comedy available on Hulu.
If living in the time of COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that time is, truly, a construct. All it took was a sledgehammer to people’s everyday routines to have them completely unsure of what clocks and calendars even mean. We have gone from the age of, “I hate Mondays!” to “Is it even Monday?” to “Dude… what even IS Monday?” And we did it in the span of about four weeks.
Remarkably, Palm Springs is the perfect movie for this time in our society.
The premise is simple… well, simple-ish: At her sister’s wedding, maid of honor Sarah meets boyfriend of a bridesmaid Nyles. Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is somewhat of a screw-up, constantly getting to drunk and making too many mistakes she regrets the next morning. Nyles (Andy Samberg) seems to be a carefree malcontent who has no problem making himself the center of attention while taking nothing seriously. The chemistry is obvious. One thing leads to another and yada yada yada, and by that I mean that Sarah follows Nyles into a glowing red cave (against his wishes) and gets unwittingly stuck in a continuous time-loop of that day.
Nyles, who has been stuck in this loop for a long period of time, quickly explains the rules to Sarah: Whenever you fall asleep or die, you wake up to wherever you were when that morning began, forced to live the day over and over. Having come to the conclusion that since you can’t really have any kind of permanent effect on the world and that you’re stuck in the same day forever, Nyles comes to the conclusion that life doesn’t really matter and has just been finding different ways to entertain himself. Now that he has a companion, however, the two decide to go on some adventures, happy in knowing that they have someone who will remember everything that has happened.
This is a delightfully fun and sweet movie. Sure, we’ve seen people live the same day repeatedly in other movies, so screenwriter Andy Siara chooses to fully focus on Nyles and Sarah and their relationship as it develops and evolves. He is fortunate that he has the two perfect actors to pull this off.
Samberg has shown that there is no medium in which he will not excel at playing a lovable goofball, be it in television (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), film (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) or music (his work with The Lonely Island). He’s able to just throw himself into this role which feels tailor-made for him. But there’s more to Nyles than just the silly side, and Samberg is able to bring emotional heft when the script calls for it.
Milioti is required to do a lot more of the heavy lifting as an actor, as we see Sarah in the start of her time loop and being forced to face all of the emotions that a person would (assumedly) have to face, from denial to anger to acceptance to struggling to find purpose. Milioti is not at all afraid to let us see Sarah for who she is, mistakes and all, and let us see her as a real person.
The rest of the cast is serviceable, which is ok because they’re not given much to do. J.K. Simmons plays Roy, the only other person also stuck in the time loop (and Nyles’ arch-enemy). Peter Gallagher is the father of the bride, and the rest of the cast is just kinda there, though there are way too many dudes with defined abs, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me a little self-conscious as the movie went on. Guess I need a bowflex or something.
Where this film feels exceptional relevant comes a lot from the direction of Max Barbakow, who really does a great job putting us in Nyles and Sarah’s shoes and showing what this kind of thing would do to a person. Days become weeks, weeks become months, and it’s all still the same day. He makes us feel the frustration and despair and confusion without it ever being too much. It’s some pretty impressive tone management, and Barbakow has given us a film which feels like it could have happened during any time, but also feels exceptionally true considering the circumstances. For a film about time, it’s both timely and also timeless.