Harold Ramis’ 1993 comedy masterpiece Groundhog Day is one of the few films that I can think of, if not the only film I can think of, that became a genre of its own. The romantic comedy spawned a number of films and television shows about a person being stuck in a time loop where they relive the same day over and over again. Films like 50 First Dates, The Edge of Tomorrow, and Happy Death Day along with numerous T.V. show episodes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed have pitted our main characters in a struggle to get out of this time loop, each putting their own spin on Ramis’ classic film.
But what writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow did with their film Palm Springs might be the best and most original version of this kind of film. Rather than look at a character who is stuck in a time loop and trying everything they can to get out, Palm Springs focuses on living in this loop and embracing the idea of being stuck in this purgatory where you can do anything you want because you know you will wake up the following day to do it all over again. It is a refreshing, new take on this genre and one of the best movies of 2020.
While at a wedding in Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg) meets Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the maid of honor and family black sheep. After he rescues her from a disastrous toast, Sarah becomes drawn to Nyles care-free attitude. But when the night takes a surreal, unexpected turn, Sarah wakes up to find out that it is the day of the wedding, again. She encounters Nyles about this bizarre phenomenon and he informs her that he’s been living the same day for as long as he can remember and that she is now stuck in this loop with him and as far as both of them can see, there is no way out of it.
What are the effects of living the same day over and over again? In Nyles’ case, a man who has lost count of the days he’s been in the loop and has a limited concept of time, he’s stopped caring about anything and anyone. What is the point of caring, especially when you’re the only one in your world? Nyles is as lonely as a person can be and the addition of Sarah, another lonely soul, in his world makes things a little brighter for him and makes him rethink his pessimistic, nihilistic ways. This is a romantic comedy, much like Groundhog Day was, but this isn’t a movie about Nyles or Sarah coming to the realization that they must do something, whether it be an act of selflessness or admit to a wrong-doing or fall in love in order to get out of this time loop (they try this approach a few times), but rather a movie about two lost souls who have found each other in this crazy world and begin to realize that maybe there is something worth living for in this world and that some things do matter, even if you are repeating the same day over and over again.
Samberg and Milioti are spectacular, giving two great comedic performances that are far more than just laughs. Samberg is really bringing some Bill Murray energy with his lackadaisical, nothing-matters vibe. Though incredibly funny with the usual Samberg wit and charm, Samberg wears the sadness and loneliness of Nyles incredibly well and proves that he has some dramatic chops beneath his comedic genius. Milioti is equally wonderful as Sarah, a woman who lives in the real world but feels just as lonely as Nyles does. We feel for Sarah as she is finding happiness in the repetitive world with Nyles, but also feel for her when she realizes this isn’t how she wants to spend her life. Samberg and Milioti have terrific chemistry that makes you root for Nyles and Sarah to be together. We also get a hilarious turn from the great JK Simmons as a man stalking Nyles.
Palm Springs is one of my favorite movies of 2020 and will be tough to beat as the best comedy of the year. It’s original, charming, hilarious, and sweet, the performances by Samberg and Milioti are top-notch, and the pitch-perfect finale ends the film beautifully. This is a fresh, new take on the Groundhog Day genre and one of the best to do it.
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