2020 | rated R | starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milloti, J.K. Simmons | directed by Max Barbakow | 1 hr 30 mins |
At a destination wedding in Palm Springs, CA, Nyles (Andy Samberg) suffers his cheating girlfriend, tries to impress the bride’s black sheep sister Sarah (Cristin Milloti), entertains himself with God-like powers to predict the future and is hunted by a bow-and-arrow wielding madman (J.K. Simmons). Palm Springs is a rom-com with a twist, but a twist that’s been done before, just not quite like this. The romance in the rom-com works well. The comedy, not so much, which is a surprise – as is the movie’s strict adherence to convention given – that it falls under Samberg’s Lonely Island brand which lent genre-skewing wackiness to the sports movie with Hot Rod and the musical biopic with the criminally underseen Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Springs isn’t nearly on that level, but it is still a cute, entertaining diversion.
The feature debut of Max Barbakow, Springs is deployed without much originality or vision, but it does know how to handle this story. It’s best idea is it’s first, a surprise that necessarily has to be let out early in the first act. Palm Springs is a time loop movie, but one that comes at this story from a perspective I’ve often wanted to see: from the outsider not stuck in the time loop witnessing the powers of someone in it. Milloti’s Sarah is our audience surrogate who comes into this situation long after the novelty has worn off on Nyles, after thousands of reset days and foiled plots to escape. He’s done everything he can do in this day for as long as he can remember, but now with a new person trapped with him, the anti-marriage pair are forced to spend a real lifetime together. See, there is a clever story in here.
This approach cleverly works around the more tiresome aspects of having a character rediscover a time loop idea that the audience has seen before. Springs skips over that exposition (extra points for not name-checking Groundhog Day in the process) along with that sinking feeling a viewer gets when they realize they are going to have to watch the same scenes over and over and over while the character gets a grip on what is happening. Where Springs works the best is in the sweet, slowly and convincingly formed relationship between Nyles and Sarah. Starting contentious and moving into necessary friendship to something sweeter, Samberg and Milloti really make it work. It is earned in a time when rom-coms feel like an endangered species.
Palm Springs is more of a disappointment for what it isn’t then what it is. No, it’s not very funny but more than that, having seen this premise a couple of times in both horror and comedy form, it’s something that desperately needs Samberg and his Lonely Island crew to flip it inside out and upside down with an affectionate 4th-wall breaking treatment. Instead we get more of the same – outrageous deaths and suicides, uninhibited characters dealing with immortality and consequence free scenarios like Nyles hitting on the bride in the middle of her wedding dance. Aside from one wonderfully random scene, where Samberg and Milloti dance around a bar in all Demin with middle fingers raised, there isn’t much here that anyone else could have made.
It begs the question, have we seen everything that time loop film has to offer? Last year Christopher Landon stretched it to a breaking point with one of the year’s most fun films, the unironically great Happy Death Day 2U, and now the genre is permanently hanging loose on every other movie. Still Palm Springs is very well paced, always an accomplishment when someone can make a time loop movie not feel repetitive. I was entertained for 90 minutes.