The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Amazon Prime Video] - PALM SPRINGS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Amazon Prime Video] - PALM SPRINGS

palm springs review
A pair of guests at a Palm Springs wedding become trapped in a time loop.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Max Barbakow

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Peter Gallagher, J. K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin

palm springs poster

Released in the US on streaming service Hulu in summer 2020, director Max Barbakow's rom-com Palm Springs instantly connected with audiences. How could a comedy about finding yourself forced to live the same day endlessly not resonate with an audience months into a global lockdown? Almost a year later it's found its way to UK and Irish audiences through Amazon Prime Video, and remarkably we're still stuck in lockdown.

It's easy to see why Palm Springs has been winning over Stateside viewers since its release. Aside from its all too resonant Groundhog Day structure, it's a light and breezy romp, just the tonic for a world stuck in the doldrums. You would think the time loop format would have run its course long ago, but in the past few years it's given us movies as diverse as Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day and now Palm Springs, which returns the time loop to its rom-com roots.

palm springs review

Wisely, Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara dispense with forcing us to sit through the usual opening act setup, as their protagonist, Nyles (Andy Samberg), has already been living through this scenario for an indefinite length of time, long enough that he claims to no longer remember his life before getting trapped in the loop. Luckily for Nyles, he's found himself stuck in a better day than most. Every morning he wakes in a hotel room at the Palm Springs resort where his girlfriend's best friend is set to be wed. But even such a plush setting has long run its course for Nyles, who after disinterested sex with his girlfriend every morning, spends his repetitive days getting drunk by the pool.

One night during the post-wedding revelry, Nyles hits on the bride's sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the black sheep of her family, all cynicism and millennial snark. Our familiarity with these movies makes us assume that this is a well-rehearsed seduction technique on Nyles' part, but on this night it works, and Nyles and Sarah retreat to the desert for some slap and tickle. They're rudely interrupted by the arrival of a bow-wielding stranger who fires a couple of arrows into Nyle, who crawls into a cave towards a mysterious red glow. Despite Nyles' warnings, Sarah follows him into the cave, only to find herself waking up on the very day she just lived through.

palm springs review

Once its premise is set in full motion, Palm Springs has a lot of fun playing up the conceits of the time loop sub-genre. Nyles stands by glibly as Sarah pulls off various vain attempts to escape her predicament, all of which he's long ago tried himself. Initially Sarah resents Nyles for getting her stuck, but as the two repeatedly spend the same day in each other's company, coming up with various ways to relieve the monotony, they soon begin to bond. But while Nyles grows comfortable in his rut, now that he has someone to share it with, Sarah is still desperate for a way to return to her old life.

Considering it's aping the format of a 30-year-old rom-com staple and follows in the path of so many movies that have done likewise, Palm Springs somehow manages to feel fresh throughout. Having not one but two protagonists stuck in the same predicament gives us a new perspective, and it also removes any of the awkward questions around consent that cropped up in Richard Curtis's creepy time loop take About Time. With Nyles and Sarah hooking up from the off, Palm Springs removes any questions about whether Nyles is simply out to bang Sarah. No, the poor schlub genuinely falls for her.

Palm Springs papers over our familiarity with the tropes of time loop movies by constantly springing surprises on us. I won’t go into detail for fear of spoiling anything, but there's a lot more going on here than first meets the eye. Various details of what Nyles and Sarah had been up to in their disparate multiverses prior to bonding in the magic cave are slowly fed to us, fleshing out both their backstories and the small world they reluctantly inhabit.

palm springs review

But for all its structural smarts, Palm Springs works because of its charm. It's a light-hearted delight anchored by two winning performances from Samberg and Milioti. Samberg has the look of a man who could be anywhere from 25 to 45, which makes him ideal to play someone who has lived for an indeterminate number of days without aging. With her huge expressive Disney eyes, Milioti makes for the perfect rabbit-in-the-headlights foil for Samberg's cynicism.

The movie boils down to a question of whether it's better to live the same contented day over and over, or risk moving on with an uncertain life. I won’t reveal which option Palm Springs ultimately goes for, but after a year of lockdown it's no doubt a question that will strike a chord with anyone who chooses a viewing of Palm Springs to help get them through another day of life on repeat.

Palm Springs
 is on Amazon Prime Video UK/ROI from April 9th.

2021 movie reviews