Palm Springs is the feature film debut of writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakov and belongs to a long line of time-loop films which were popularised by Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day. Equally, there are many elements of the Bill Murray rom-com to be found here.
The film begins with Nyles (Andy Samberg), as he wakes up next to his two-timing girlfriend, Misty. They’re at a sunny resort for a wedding, but soon enough we find out that something is amiss: Nyles has been living that same wedding day over and over. Armed with the knowledge that his girlfriend is cheating on him, he spends the days getting drunk and having sex with anyone who gives him the come-to-bed eyes. Nyles is perfectly content to do this until, one day, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) stumbles into the same cosmic portal Nyles did. So, both characters are forced to spend the same day in each other’s company for the rest of eternity.
Romance ensues, of course. What separates Palm Springs from lesser films of this kind is that it doesn’t spend too much time explaining its central concept. A good (or bad, depending on your perspective) example of this is Happy Death Day 2U, a sequel to the successful slasher. The film got so bogged down in explaining its plot that the film somehow made less sense and was ultimately boring. There is some of that exposition in Palm Springs, but it’s kept to a minimum – as is the amount of thematic depth.
This, though, is both a strength and weakness of the film. For people looking for a fun, breezy film, Palm Springs certainly fits the bill. Largely, this is down to the strength of its two stars. On the flip side, there’s a lot of material in Palm Springs that’s left almost entirely unexplored. There’s a particular scene where an unknown side of Nyles’ character is revealed, that really gives Palm Springs a much darker edge. Though, as the narrative progresses, much of what makes the film interesting is abandoned in service of a much more generic plot.
What the film sorely needs more of, though, is an examination of the characters. To delve into why exactly Nyles allows himself to sleep with people repeatedly, knowing that they’ll never remember it on the subsequent times. The film could have delved into issues of consent here, or even the psychological makeup of Nyles. How does he justify his actions to himself? On top of that, Sarah seems to sweep his misconduct under the rug a little too easily. The genre itself does dictate somewhat how dark a film like this can feasibly get, but Palm Springs is one that could have done with a darker edge. Instead, it substitutes narrative tension for an ending which is wrapped up neatly with a bowtie.
This kind of escapist plot is such a staple of the rom-com because it works, though. Palm Springs is definitely made with a lot more passion than many of the genre’s offerings this year. It may not be as authentic as the rom-com greats like You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally, but Palm Springs still has a very strong sense of place. The production design is vivid, and there are some fantasy sequences which, although they feel sort of incongruous with the rest of the film, have the warmth and emotion fundamental to any romantic film.
On the whole, Palm Springs is by no means a bad film: everyone involved in its making was passionate about what they were doing, and it shows. It may not be a classic, but it is the most vibrant romantic comedy of the year by quite some distance. It doesn’t have the amount of depth to merit repeat viewings, but fans of the genre could do much worse than this if they want some brief respite from the horrors of 2020.
Words by Frazer MacDonald
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