If you have questions about the ending of Palm Springs, stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti don’t have the answers.
With an open-to-interpretation ending, the Amazon Prime rom-com about two people stuck in a time loop that repeats a single day of a desert wedding has been puzzling American audiences since it was released there in July.
Australians have had the weekend to experience its humour and heart, and mull over those final scenes of whether lead characters Nyles and Sarah really managed to escape the time loop.
But whatever your take, Samberg and Milioti aren’t going to tell you if you’re right.
“I love the ambiguity of the film,” Milioti tells news.com.au over Zoom. “It’s one of my favourite parts about it.”
Samberg, who also produced the film through his The Lonely Island comedy trio, is similarly enigmatic.
“I’m the last person that wants to make something pretentious, but for whatever reason this one just tickles me,” he says. “I like the idea that it’s not a definitive ‘This is what happened’. It’s a ‘Well, what do you think happened?’
“Normally that would annoy me, but for whatever reason on this one, I just love it.
“The first meeting we had with [writer] Andy [Siara] and [director] Max [Barbakow], we talked a lot about the ending in that our dream was that people would watch the movie and then they would have a conversation afterwards and different people would think different things happened, and how fascinating it would be that that would be sort of indicative of people’s personalities.
“I’m so thrilled that’s actually been the case.”
Without giving too much away for those who haven’t seen it, Palm Springs’ ending asks more questions than it answers, thanks to the possibilities presented by quantum physics, string theory and multiverses – plus, movie magic.
Samberg and Milioti (and Siara and Barbakow) all have their own ideas of what happened to Nyles and Sarah, and none of them agree with each other.
“We have wildly different interpretations of the ending,” Milioti confesses. “That excites me. The four of us having worked as closely as we did on this film. We all know what it is – we know it shot-for-shot – but we all have a different opinion of what it is.”
Milioti’s version though is the bleakest interpretation of the four.
“Mine is for sure. I mean I certainly think it’s the best one because it’s my interpretation. And we got into playful arguments about who was right about what happened.”
Milioti says the team shot “multiple endings” but she felt the one in the film is the best one.
Even if the beginning and the end point for what happens to the characters in Palm Springs aren’t clear, at least its journey off-screen was.
Siara and Barbakow conceived of the idea while still at film school. When Samberg came across the script, he says he was 15 pages in when Nyles was shot by an arrow.
“I started laughing really hard and I was like ‘I think I’m going to do this movie, I love this script’.”
The Lonely Island, which is Samberg along with Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, came on as producers and helped shape the script into what it became.
“It changed a lot in some ways but the spirit, the backbone of the structure and the characters really didn’t,” Samberg says. “When we took the movie on at our company, we worked with them to sort of expand certain things and add more set pieces.
“Then we gave it a little bit bigger of a third act. They had imagined it being a really, really small indie and then when we came on board, it became a really small indie instead of really, really.”
Samberg says one of the things The Lonely Island guys contributed was brainstorming the antics of when Nyles and Sarah have both given up and just go all out in messing around during their days.
That includes an intricately choreographed dance sequence. Milioti may have a Broadway background, but Samberg doesn’t. The pair started rehearsing before start of production in three-hour blocks, adding up to a couple of days.
Sometimes they even got through the whole dance in one take.
“We toyed with the idea of leaving it in the movie as a one-r because we were so proud of ourselves for learning the whole dance number and not messing it up,” Samberg says. “But it turns out, unless it’s that shot in Children of Men or something, it’s better to edit things.”
For Milioti, one of the more complex things she had to learn was something that ended up on the cutting floor. Originally, her character Sarah had a monologue that explained the theory and mechanics behind time loops.
“It was pages long where I described exactly how they work,” she explains. “I memorised this whole thing and it was really thought out and talks about all different types of theories and space-time continuums, black holes and all this stuff.
“Then they screened it for people and people didn’t care.”
But, for a spell, Milioti says she believed “yeah, [time loops] could totally happen”.
“It had to do with what happens when you combine certain energy and what happens to atoms. It was wild. It made sense. I mean, as much sense as it can to someone who is an actor for a living!”
Even though the nitty-gritty of the science didn’t make it into Palm Springs, it doesn’t diminish the film because the truth of that final act, even in its ambiguity, was always in the emotional choices Sarah and Nyles make.
Milioti says her favourite scene to shoot, which happened to be on the last day of production, was an intimate scene of Sarah and Nyles around the campfire when they have either a shared experience of something magical or they’re both hallucinating.
For the record, Milioti won’t reveal what she thinks that particular moment represents – “I will never say” – just as she, Samberg and the filmmakers won’t say what they think the ending is.
There are certain promises rom-coms make to viewers, genre conventions established 100 years earlier. One of those is something resembling a happy ending – and that’s where Palm Springs either does or doesn’t fulfil that promise.
Milioti believes rom-coms don’t need to promise a happily-ever-after.
“I think that to say there is a happily-ever-after is to cheapen one’s experience of life,” she argues. “If you’re just looking for happily-ever-after, then you’re going to be at this weird sort of plateau of emotion because you can’t have the great without the bad and you can’t be joyful without sadness.”
Samberg agrees, “I know there are people who think rom-coms absolutely must [have a happily-ever-after], that’s the linchpin of the genre. I would argue ‘no’, as long as it leaves you feeling the feeling you want to feel. You know?
“I think even if you have a dark outlook, even if you feel like something negative happened at the end of Palm Springs, I think you’re able to watch the movie and laugh and enjoy it and feel positive emotions.
“Life is not just one emotion. It’s wonderful and it’s horrible.”
Palm Springs is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video
Share your movies and TV obsessions | @wenleima