All charm, heart and hilarity, Palm Springs is one of the year’s best films – and it’s not playing in cinemas.
Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, the Groundhog Day-inspired rom-com starts streaming today on Amazon Prime Video and it’s every bit as winning and seductive as you’d hoped.
It’s not just that it makes you laugh with its goofy sense of humour or captivates with its unlikely love story between two broken people, it’s that it plays with a beloved genre to offer not a happily ever after but a clever “what if?”.
The strong, charismatic performances and the snappy dialogue would be enough to carry Palm Springs, but then you throw in its careful balance of existential crisis and joyful, life-affirming epiphanies, and you have an absolute cracker of a movie experience.
Nyles (Samberg) is a guest at a wedding in Palm Springs, where his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is a bridesmaid. The day is November 9.
He doesn’t seem as invested in the day as everyone else and shows up to the ceremony in board shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. At the reception that night, he locks eyes with Sarah (Milioti), the sister of the bride, while moving through the dancing crowd as if he can anticipate their every move.
That’s because he can. Nyles has been stuck in a time loop – the day of the wedding – for long enough so that he can’t even remember what he used to do for work before his purgatorial existence.
When Sarah accidentally follows Nyles into a glowing cave in the Palm Springs desert on that particular loop, she wakes up on November 9, now also stuck in the loop. Attempts to escape the loop – staying awake as long as she can, driving back to Texas, killing herself – all have the same effect, reset and waking up on the morning of the wedding.
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Nyles has been in the loop for so long, he feels his life has lost all consequence – that is until he and Sarah spend their days together.
As much as Palm Springs is driven by the clever plot device about the time loop and whether or not Nyles and Sarah will ever break free of it, the real heart of it is these two characters.
Nyles, having given up on a meaningful life, is reawakened by Sarah. He may have been surrounded by people for decades, but he’s been lonely as hell – except for when the one other person also in the loop, Roy (J.K. Simmons) literally hunts him down.
Sarah is broken in other ways. A chain of bad life decisions led her to where she wakes up each morning, the exact nature of which is only revealed later.
Nyles and Sarah find solace, redemption and the connection they’ve both been missing. But Palm Springs is not a story of two lost souls finding each other because there is no one else – well, it could be if you were a glass half-empty kind of person.
Their relationship isn’t simple, there are challenges and half-truths, things they’re keeping from themselves as much as each other – and that’s true of any real-world relationship.
But they’re also on the same wavelength which is crazy fun for the audience, especially a montage in where they truly go for it in a world with no memory. Those parts of the movie are so loose and delightful.
What Palm Springs really nails though, and where many rom-coms fall apart or deflate, is in its ending which lives up to a promise but is also open-ended enough that two people in the same room will have different opinions on what they just saw.
It might seem like some perverse tease for audiences that there is a movie out now about people stuck in the same place, repeating the same experiences. In a year when many have endured hard lockdowns, witnessed social disorder and seen truth and empathy discarded like a crumpled chip packet, it has an eerie resonance.
So, when Nyles says early on in the film, “I decided a while ago to give up and stop trying to make sense of things all together, the only way to live is to embrace the fact that nothing matters,” you hope Palm Springs will find a way for him to come back from that – a promise that we all can.
Isn’t it time for everything to mean something again?
Palm Springs is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video
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