This clever spin on a well-worn premise poses big questions about the meaning of life and monogamy without sacrificing the laughs
From Groundhog Day to, well, Happy Death Day, the time loop formula has been recycled so frequently that you have to wonder if there's anywhere left for it to go. Fortunately, Palm Springs takes the format to extraordinary new heights by asking genuinely thoughtful questions about what makes life worth living – while still remaining one of the most hilarious comedies of the year.
Max Barbakow’s delightful film is so full of surprises that revealing them would ruin the fun. When we first meet Nyles (Andy Samberg) on the morning of a desert wedding, though, he’s already made a number of rounds through this time warp – so much so that he’s well-acquainted with every minor detail of the day and all its characters. When he accidentally invites Sarah (Cristin Milioti) into the loop, both are faced with the terrifying but thrilling prospect of spending forever in each other’s company.
For the cynical viewers among us, the conceit is sure to sound an awful lot like a time loop take on monogamy, and of this the film is fully aware. In between wacky gags in which Nyles and Sarah test the limits of a world with no consequences (disastrous stick-and-poke tattoos, crashing a plane, setting off a bomb, you name it), Andy Siara’s wise script also takes time to consider the value of love and companionship. If your relationship can withstand a time loop, surely it can survive anything… right?
Samberg does what Samberg does best – that is, inject a healthy dose of irreverent comedy at every turn – but Nyles protects himself with a coat of apathy and indifference that allows the actor and comedian to deliver a sadder and softer side that we haven't really seen since the bittersweet Celeste and Jesse Forever. But it’s Milioti who’s the film's real beating heart. Not unlike Anya Taylor-Joy, she contains multitudes in her wide eyes, beautifully expressing joy, determination and heartbreak as events unfold.
“We kind of have no choice but to live,” Nyles tells Sarah at one point. “So I think your best bet is just to learn how to suffer existence.” Palm Springs essentially boils down to this core idea. How do you make the most of monotony? Is it possible to find happiness? It speaks not only to anomalies in the time-space continuum, but adulthood and everyday drudgery. The film says a lot in a short amount of time (only 90 minutes!), but it never lulls, no matter how existential things get.
It’s perhaps both a blessing and a curse that Palm Springs has finally made it to the UK at this moment, as we’re inching closer to the end of the lockdown tunnel. When it was first released stateside last year, its time loop premise was hailed as a painfully apt metaphor for the monotony of 2020. But I’d argue the timing could not be better than right now, when we're able to fully understand not only how the past year brought us down, but how we lifted ourselves back up again. Palm Springs demonstrates how even the most dire of situations can be made bearable if you're able to find just a bit of hope – and someone to share it with.
Palm Springs is available on Prime Video from 9 April.Where to watch