We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again: a problematic guy is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again in a seemingly endless time-loop. Now, imagine putting together the phrase ‘time loop’, ‘rom-com’, and ‘original’ in the same sentence as ‘one of this year’s best.’ Then, add ‘not trying to be the next Groundhog Days’ and ‘relevant to the current situation’ into the equation; and you’ll get Palm Springs, a directorial debut by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara. Coincidentally, the premise somehow mirrors the condition of almost everyone around the world—trapped in a devastating loop and a cycle of tedium during the quarantine period.
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Unlike most time-loop film, Palm Springs doesn’t start at the beginning. By the time the protagonist, Nyles (Brooklyn 99‘s Andy Samberg), wakes up, learns about his girlfriend’s infidelity, then attends a wedding where he saves Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the bride’s sister, from total embarrassment, and moves on to the next, same day, it’s already the umpteenth loop for him. “Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same” is his favorite line and, most probably, his ultimate credo. There’s never been any hint of how long he has been in the loop and how he gets there; but, the movie suggests that maybe it’s been years as he loses track of time. At the end of the day, we’ll witness the magnetic attraction between Nyles and Sarah—two broken figures trying to find any solace left within each other and salvage the only hope remains within themselves. Before long, Nyles who finds himself hunted by a mysterious wedding guest (JK Simmons) wielding a bow and arrows will accidentally drag Sarah into the same loop.
While similar time-loop movies will immediately leap into a self-reflective journey as the character attempts to find out what has been wrong or out-of-place within them to finally exit the loop once and for all, the protagonists in Palm Springs doesn’t follow the same path. Sarah might have gone that way for a moment as she’s trying to cope up with the loop and confront Nyles who has been dragging her in. Nyles is skeptical about getting out of the loop after zillions of failed attempts; therefore, he decides to get used to the situation, revel in every moment, and encourage Sarah to do just like him. She’s sardonic; he’s gone reckless; and the couple will soon find themselves co-dependent to each other as they spend too much time having fun together—crash the very same wedding over and over again or making mess at a local saloon or witness dinosaurs walking on a desert. If anything, the mid act where the leads start to bond with another is highly wild, innovative, but exhilarating. It’s undoubtedly long, but admirably, as it barely dabbles on the same water repeatedly and unravels piles of surprise that make both protagonists more layered and sympathetic.
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It’s not that difficult to predict where the bonding leads to. Palm Springs doesn’t shy away from embracing rom-com’s winning formula to spice up Nyles and Sarah’s odyssey. Complications arise when we soon learn the leads’ different perspectives on living in the loop. Nyles, finding solace in Sarah, loves the new status quo and he’s willing to trade his normal, chronological life away for an infinite loop for as long as he’s with her. For Sarah, things are a little more complicated than it’s suggested. From the beginning, it’s been hinted that she’s a difficult person and life has made her somehow more resilient to happily-ever-after charm; but, she has her reasons to get out of the loop. Thing is, she has developed certain kind of feelings for Nyles. It’s a case to make this sci-fi-induced rom-com works but with one condition: the chemistry between the leads works as well. Fortunately, Palm Springs is everything about Samberg and Milioti’s charming chemistry.
In a year that feels like a loop, Palm Springs offers a fresh, charm escapism from the reality. The formula might feel like some what-has-been but Siara’s screen adds a lot of could-have-become moments that make the trip to Palm Springs a worthwhile experience. Samberg and Milioti injects the much-needed allure to the likable rom-com while JK Simmons, while underused, adds a reflective thought that makes it wholesome.