Director – Max Barbakow, Screenplay – Andy Siara, Producers – Andy Samberg, Chris Parker, Akiva Schaffer, Dylan Sellers, Becky Sloviter & Jorma Taccone, Photography – Quyen ‘Q’ Tran, Music – Matthew Compton, Visual Effects – Crafty Apes (Supervisor – Tim Ledoux), Special Effects Supervisor – Tom Ceglia, Production Design – Jason Kisvarday. Production Company – Lonely Island/Limelight Productions.
Andy Samberg (Nyles), Cristin Milioti (Sarah Wilder), J.K. Simmons (Roy), Meredith Hagner (Misty), Tyler Hoechlin (Abe Schlieffen), Camilla Mendes (Tala Wilder), Peter Gallagher (Howard Wilder), Jacqueline Obrados (Pia Wilder), Tongaya Chirisa (Jerry), Dale Dickey (Darla), Chris Pang (Trevor), Jena Friedman (Daisy), June Squibb (Nana Schlieffen), Brian Duffy (Spuds), Conner O’Malley (Randy)
Nyles and his girlfriend Misty wake in the morning at a motel in Palm Springs where they have travelled to attend the wedding of Abe Schlieffen and Tala Wilder. Nyles turns up at the ceremony dressed casually in an Hawaiian shirt and stands up to give an impromptu impassioned speech. He befriends the bride’s sister Sarah and then takes her with him to peep in on Misty cheating on him with the celebrant. They go to make out only for Nyles to be shot by Roy, a man armed with a crossbow. A concerned Sarah follows the wounded Nyles as he crawls up to a cave but Nyles pleads with her not to enter. Nyles wakes up to go through the same day all over again – only to be interrupted by Sarah who is experiencing the same day again too as a result of having entered the cave. He explains to her that he has been stuck in a timeloop and that the day resets whenever he goes to sleep or is killed. As they experience events over and over, an attraction grows between the two of them.
Groundhog Day (1993) was an appealing comedy with Bill Murray trapped in repeating the same day over and over, always doing so with some variation, which he ultimately used to further his chances with co-worker Andie McDowell. Although you never have guessed at the time, Groundhog Day spawned a mini-genre of films. It laid down a series of tropes that were copied by successive films – the small period of time (usually a day) caught on a loop, the endless variations on the same events, the protagonist’s despair and boredom, even the discovery that killing themself does nothing to change things. Plus the idea (subverted here) that doing a selfless action or getting everything right will deliver the protagonist from the timeloop.
Subsequent copies include the likes of 12:01 (1993), Retroactive (1997), Run Lola Run (1998), Naken (2000), Repeaters (2010), Source Code (2011), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), ARQ (2016), Before I Fall (2017), Happy Death Day (2017) and Naked (2017), even two entire tv series with Day Break (2006-7) and Russian Doll (2019- ). The timeloop theme has become so prevalent that we have now started to see films that have started using it with some cleverness. Happy Death Day and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U (2019) used the idea to create a slasher film, while Edge of Tomorrow had Tom Cruise defeating an entire alien invasion.
If you come to Palm Springs knowing nothing about it, it is some way in before you are aware that this is a timeloop film. As the film opens, we are introduced to Andy Samberg who to all appearances is a regular guy attending a wedding with his girlfriend. Things start to seem slightly off – you wonder why we see him sitting among the rest of the finely attired guests wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. He gets up to give a seemingly spontaneous speech and then takes Cristin Milioti away with him to peep in on his girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) making out with the celebrant amid comments like “There’s no version of events where this doesn’t happen.” The two go to make out only for Samberg to be attacked by a man with a bow and arrow and struggle up to the cave followed by Cristin Milioti. It is only then – some fifteen minutes into the film – when Cristin Milioti wakes up that the film reveals it is a timeloop film.
Palm Springs makes the assumption that everyone has seen Groundhog Day or one of its imitators and builds from there, placing a series of successive spins on the idea. Rather than all the other films where the protagonist wakes up to find themselves repeating the day, the film has Andy Samberg already in the midst of the timeloop, having been there so long he confesses at point that he cannot remember what he used to do before this. The idea of two people becoming stuck in the timeloop becomes an interesting twist placed on what went before. For a time after this, Palm Springs puts us through the familiar stuff of the timeloop film, following Cristin Milioti’s bafflement, despair, suicide attempts and then the two reaching acceptance and deciding to have some fun.
What lifts the film considerably from the routine of all the rest of the timeloop films is that director Max Barbakow and his cast have a wonderfully adept hand with the comedy – be it the chain of circumstances that ends up with the bride losing her front teeth as Cristin Milioti emerges on her first morning in the timeloop, or wonderfully silly choreographed dances that Andy Samberg conducts behind people at the wedding or two of them in the bar.
These come with some perceptively well written scenes – Andy Samberg getting into a crash position designed to kill himself as quickly as possible as Cristin Milioti starts driving towards a truck while explaining that it might kill them but it is no fun being in pain for hours at the ER. It’s a sharp and particularly adept screenplay that comes with some strong arcs – Andy Samberg going from the person who states he doesn’t care to eventually finding he does, while both characters come with secrets they are withholding that eventually come to the fore. Not to mention the eventual romantic reconciliation that is delivered all in the space of one grammatically contorted sentence, which had the writer in one laughing out loud.
Andy Samberg is an actor best known for voice acting work in films like Space Chimps (2008), as the hero of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and sequel, and the boyfriend of Dracula’s daughter in Hotel Transylvania (2012) and sequels. Samberg came to stardom after a series of comedy sketches made as part of the comedy trio The Lonely Island, which were among some of the first clips posted on YouTube in the early 2000s and served to earn him exposure on Saturday Night Live (1975- ). (Palm Springs is co-produced by Samberg and his Lonely Island associates Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone). He is great in his part, playing with a bored, gawky indifference that carries a great deal of the film’s comedy. Equally, Cristin Milioti with her wonderfully expressive wide-open eyes is a great find who matches him in sheer energy.