If ever there was a movie more fitting of today's socail climate, it would be infinite time loop rom-com Palm Springs. Written by Andy Siarra and directed Max Barbakov, Palm Springs co-stars Brookyn Nine-Nine's Andy Samberg and Black Mirror's Cristin Milioti as two people forced to relive the same day. The concept is not new – Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day used the concept with Bill Murray in tow, to hilarious effect while Doug Liman applied the concept to a save-the-world sci-fi actioner in Edge of Tomorrow. Time loops even dipped in the horror genre pool with Happy Death Day and its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U. Palm Springs has more in common with Groundhog Day with and its carefree (nearly careless, but in a good way) look at reliving a wedding day for eternity is hilarious, humbling and genius.

Palm Springs focuses on Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti), strangers attending the same wedding. Nyles’ girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is a bridesmaid and Sarah is the maid of honor (and the bride’s older sister). Nyles and Sarah hit it off during the wedding reception, then during a seemingly random encounter with Roy (J.K. Simmons) - wielding bow and arrows, things get weird. Fast forward to the "next day" - Nyles is having beers in the pool, exactly like he did the day before (not knowing the film’s concept coming in, I had to confirm I didn’t hit rewind by accident), while Sarah wakes up realizing it’s not the day after the wedding but instead the wedding day… again.

Siarra keeps the infinite time loop theme fresh by having multiple people experience the phenomenon. With two people in the know, Nyles and Sarah are not only stuck living the same day, they’re stuck living the same day together. They both learn, humorously, regardless of anything they do they’ll end up at the same place they were when the wedding day began. Nyles and Sarah can perform kind deeds, eat and drink as much as they want, act like total jerks, become criminals – nothing will break the loop. If they die (whether by suicide or some fatal mishap) or simply fall asleep, the day resets. Each handles this news differently, but they hang out together anyways because, honestly, there isn’t much else to do.

Although the stakes are low, they are palpable since viewers are provided with an intimate look at two main characters. With a running time of just 90 minutes, Barbakow and Siarra provide insight into the lives of both Nyles and Sarah, making the stakes more accessible. Nyles and Misty's relationship is going nowhere, so it’s fitting Nyles isn't high on moving on. And because her bride sister Tala (Camila Mendes) was the perfect child growing up, Sarah is the black sheep, even admitting to Nyles that her family, “They all see me as a – ah, as a liability who f**ks around and drinks too much.”

With the groundwork laid out, it’s pleasant to see Barbakow and Siarra steer clear of potential pitfalls. At points they nearly bite off more than they can chew, but thanks to excellent performances from Samberg and Milioti it’s easy to buy into their “time-insensitive” situation and fall in love with them simultaneously. Besides, Palm Springs doesn’t take any breathers, so viewers may not have time to ponder.

One thing that always stands out (but is not often mentioned) during time loop films is that those who are stuck remember their experiences. That affects Nyles and Sarah as the audience witnesses their up and downs. This may be the film's most important aspect because it drives their narratives and is the source for all its drama. Barbakov and Siarra tap this keg without completely draining it, making Nyles' and Sarah’s journeys more effective.

Back when public events were happening with normalcy (such as film festivals), Palm Springs was one of the most talked-about films at Sundance 2020. Made on a budget of $5 million, its distribution rights were sold for a record $17.5 million and 69 cents (although Deadline reported the deal was worth closer to $22 million) and likely would’ve enjoyed a nationwide theater release until the pandemic hit. Instead, you can see Palm Springs on Hulu and at some drive-in theaters.

Palm Springs is delightful and possibly the year’s funniest film. It’s lighthearted enough to produce laughs but is also heavy enough for its stakes to resonate. It’s a fantastic blend of comedy, romance and sci-fi, while the banality of living the same day repeatedly isn’t lost on this country – staying at home performing the same routine has never been better realized than with this excellent feature.

4.5 stars out of 5

 


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