The rebirth of the romcom has arrived! Even if a derivation of an extremely familiar classic “Palm Springs” is one of the most refreshing comedies I have seen in years. The jokes land, the characters are delightful, and the story has value beyond the typical thematic tropes of its genre. Sold at Sundance for an astronomical $17,500,000.69, Hulu owns what is a platform seller in an enchanting celebration of life picture. “Palm Springs'” charisma is the perfect form of therapy one could use during a time of what seems to be an infinite period of quarantine.
Borrowing quite liberally from “Groundhog Day” “Palm Springs” is an affirmation on the will to live. There’s an unintentional zeitgeist element in Max Barbakow’s film that I couldn’t shake. Where “Palm Springs” begins is where “Groundhog” day would have ended if Bill Murray’s character never broke from his spell. Niles (Andy Samberg) has been stuck living the same day for what may be a decade. He’s forgotten almost every element of his life from before the day of his girlfriend’s BFF’s wedding. When hooking up with the Bride’s sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti), she stumbles into the cave that infused Niles’ time loop. Now trapped with the same fate as Niles, Sarah must learn how to get out or co-exist peacefully with him.
The trappings for a “Groundhog Day” ripoff could have easily been made with the story taking every predictable direction possible. Harold Ramis’ film could have been copied like a mediocre fan film. What Andy Siara’s screenplay provides instead is a contemporary nonlinear take on the classic 1993 tale. Switching sides between Samberg and Milioti’s characters, we get a world told through the view of two incredibly dynamic characters. Neither of which are pigeonholed cliches.
Andy Samberg’s Niles is a lovable man beaten down by his nihilism (pun intended). After spending an indefinite amount of time in repetition, his hope of breaking free from the cycle is gone, where nothing to him seems to matter anymore. Samberg does a marvelous job applying his affable disposition towards a character that masquerades his despair through humor. It’s easy to tell through Samberg’s performance that he’s reached every stage of emotion from shock, to anger, to depression, reaching the point of being joyfully numb on the outside while dead on the inside. He provides the audience with a performance that isn’t too jokey nor too serious. It’s just the perfect mix of wit and drought for the viewer to latch onto.
Equally impressive is Cristin Milioti’s Sarah. Milioti has a spectacularly expressionistic face that you can read from a million miles away. Where Sanberg is good at playing it cool, Milioti is stupendous at displaying emotion without even having to speak. From the moment we meet Sarah, we can see she’s hurting from within. When deciding to take charge, I honestly bought into her character’s transformation. What’s legitimately surprising is how well rounded much of the supporting cast is. There’s an entire dimension to each supporting role except for Niles’ girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner), who essentially is a punching bag for the audience to outright hate. I could divulge what makes each character tremendous, but that would probably ruin the plot. Keep your eyes peeled for J.K. Simmons’ part is all I’ll say.
Loaded with countless moments of brilliant humor, “Palm Springs” is pure joy. Nothing feels forced or edgy or flaunty. The time-lapse may be a bit of a cheat but is used appropriately where its high concept is earned. Complimenting the jokes is an unpredictable story loaded with phenomenal pacing. There are moments of heartfelt emotion that made me face some incredibly challenging questions myself. If stuck in a time-loop, would I want to leave? What if I’ve grown so accustomed to it that I couldn’t readjust to the real world? Wouldn’t you want to wake up every day to go to a beautiful wedding on a gorgeous night? Not to mention, you could be young forever! Achieving immortality may come at a cost, but it may be worth it.
The ambiguity of this philosophy is examined where love classically prevails in the end in one of the most believable romantic stories I’ve seen this year. Sarah’s need to realize her true potential, Niles’ desire to hope again, these are incredibly subtextual themes that are examined wonderfully in a category that is rarely given enough love from the audience or the filmmakers. Being stuck in quarantine, most of us may feel like we’re living the same day continually. When a cure finally is available where we’re able to go to the ball game again, will we be like Niles, content within our prison, or will we want to rediscover the value of life by taking that big step back out into the world? Clearly, I’m misanalyzing the film on that end due to cabin fever, but even if I am, “Palm Springs” gave me something to meditate on. Not bad for a yuck yuck flick.