There comes a point when the Groundhog’s Day genre starts to feel like a bit of a Groundhog’s Day.
The reliving of the same moment, over and over again, is a concept explored in so many different genres – with so many twists and gimmicks that upon hearing that there would be a new comedy with the formula, you can’t help but roll your eyes. Even the finest of these films often feel derivative at best. The worst can be utterly pastiche, taking a cool concept and making it anything but. How many times can we comment on the monotony of life and its cyclical nature before the very films themselves become, well, monotonous and cyclical?
Palm Springs, arriving at a time when everyone is feeling a little dazed by the tedium and repetition of quarantine life, takes those tired ideas and asks a simple, yet captivating question: what if you were stuck in one moment forever… with another person? What if, through sheer happenstance, you became tethered to another person for the rest of eternity? Till death do you part.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, both giving career-best performances, play two guests at a wedding who, due to cosmic timef*ckery, are forced to live the same day, every day, forever. Andy Samberg’s Nyles has already been trapped in this loop for a while now, meaning he serves as a guide for Cristin’s Milioti’s Sarah in what can only be described as a truly horrifying scenario, that the film plays for borderline horror at points. The film is fun and breezy, but never for a second lets you forget the magnitude of existential crises we are witnessing. Each day comes and goes with the same people, places, and events that almost begin to drive the viewer mad.
There is an inherent terror to the Groundhog’s Day scenario we’ve become accustomed to, but never has it been done on such a down to earth level where it truly does feel as though two normal people are being subjected to some cruel intergalactic experiment. That’s not to say, however, that this comedy isn’t still a comedy. As dark and morbid as it sometimes gets, it’s also completely hilarious. Samberg and Milioti have dynamite chemistry that makes the emotional high and lows feel all the more funny and compelling. Why stop there, Palm Springs asks, before also giving us a weapons-grade J.K. Simmons who brings chaotic energy and pathos. Simmons supercharges the film dramatically and comedically, delivering both some of the film’s funniest and most poignant moments.
Perhaps most surprising about Palm Springs is its sheer audaciousness, committing fully to its sci-fi concept with mind-bending visuals, unorthodox editing, and all-around energy that seems more fit for a thriller or action film than a hangout comedy. First-time director Max Barbakow makes a hell of a debut here. He flaunts style and confidence that comes across as brainy and complex without veering into the sort of pretension of something like Rick and Morty.
Palm Springs spends the entirety of its running time veering wildly between tones and dropping bombshells that serve to fundamentally twist our perception of what’s happening. Although, it’s always in service of its grander thematic aspirations, which are what makes it so unique from any other movie in its oeuvre. There are real questions at the heart of this film that, frankly, left me feeling a bit dazed and perhaps a little soul stirred. How do you know when you have met the person that you’re supposed to be with? How can anyone know? Palm Springs makes the case that maybe it doesn’t matter. Sitting back, feeling the air on my skin, and looking out at the infinite blue sky while pondering the vastness of everything around me, it feels good. I don’t know if that’s the meaning of life, but it sure feels like it. Right now, that’s enough for me.