One November day in Palm Springs, wedding guest Nyles (Andy Samberg) falls through a mysterious portal in a cave and then, Groundhog Day-style, finds himself repeating the entire wedding day all over again. He’s trapped in a time loop that resets whenever he goes through the portal, falls asleep, or dies.
An indeterminate number of repetitions later, the maid-of-honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti), follows him through the cave portal and gets trapped in the same loop. Stuck in a never-ending sliver of time and space, essentially alone together, Sarah and Nyles go through some shit.
Arley: I would recommend it as a casual watch.
Josh: I liked it. I didn’t even know it was going to be science fiction until I started watching! That was a pleasant surprise.
Arley: I think it’s good to know going in that there’s a speculative element to it. Just so you aren’t expecting a straight up Wedding Crashers, or The Wedding Planner. There’s bound to be some crossover audience, and one of my favorite movies is Bridesmaids (which is SO GOOD), but I think a lot of people who like those movies aren’t interested in the Groundhog Day version.
Josh: But then I started nitpicking the reality. Andy Samberg says, “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the multiverse,” and I said, “Well, why not?!” I certainly do. There was also that scene where they saw dinosaurs, which was completely unexplained. At that point the movie was surreal enough they could basically put whatever they wanted into it.
Arley: I think that’s part of the difference in target audience: a lot of the “wedding comedy” fans — which is its own huge market — probably don’t think about the multiverse much. By the way, did you figure out why there were dinosaurs?
Josh: No. Did you?
Arley: Nope. Maybe they were caught in their own time loop?
Palm Springs is one of those few time loop movies that tries, mostly successfully, to provide a rational, scientific explanation for its loop, and to also provide a logical, scientific solution for breaking out of it (although a goat does create a plothole). Like how we’ve all seen enough zombie movies to automatically know what to do in case of an actual apocalypse, time loop movies have reached a level of saturation so that the characters within them can, theoretically, skip all the dumb ideas and go right to the good stuff, and the audience will be able to keep up.
Therefore, it speaks so much to Nyles’ character that, after thousands of cycles, he hasn’t improved or educated himself at all, while Sarah almost immediately does. (Even Bill Murray learned to play the piano.) It’s a little unclear who the main character is, since Nyles mainly serves to explain everything while Sarah drives the plot forward. In fact, it is Nyles’ lack of progress, and even lack of desire to progress, that motivates Sarah to brute force her own way out.
Arley: If we look at time spent onscreen, it’s probably mostly Andy Samberg, and Sarah’s like a supporting character who’s trying hard to be a main character.
Josh: Yeah, she does go away for a while, but I think Sarah is the main character because she has the most growth and figures shit out. She gets dragged into the time loop by Nyles, and Nyles gets dragged through the actual story by her, so he’s a deuteragonist. He doesn’t do anything — neuteragonist. I guess he learns some dance moves, and has sex with everyone. That’s doing something.
Arley: My favorite was when he was going through all the people he’s slept with and he’s like, “‘Cause, why not?” I think if you like Andy Samberg, you’ll like this movie because a lot of it is him being him. Less so perhaps than in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and more on an adult level. I do like him, and I think he’s pretty funny, but he’s such a bland guy in this movie and he gets a great girl, which is such a trope in nerd cinema. Kind of the same dynamic as Peralta and Santiago.
Josh: That’s fairly standard wish fulfillment, which is to be expected in an escapist fantasy. This isn’t some hyper-real drama, obviously. It’s also not Andy Samberg’s usual brand of humor — this isn’t Never Stop Never Stopping or that Jose Canseco movie.
Arley: I like few comedies, and there are some romantic comedies I like, and I like Andy Samberg. I did get a couple of laughs. The guys that I watched it with, I think they liked it more than I did, but I also think that it’s a certain kind of humor, let’s call it suburban middle class white humor. And those were the kinds of guys I watched it with. It’s got that kind of corniness to it.
Josh: It’s not frat humor, though. Not over-the-top. And it’s not just “a comedy”: there’s some dark stuff, speculative elements, and romance.
Arley: People are being hunted. I loved that people were being hunted.
Josh: Well, that part was funny.
Why Palm Springs? Other than being a popular wedding destination, the city is shorthand for a hedonistic lifestyle, serving in the past as a Rat Pack getaway, hosting countless bachelor and bachelorette parties, and ground zero for Coachella. What better place, then, for Nyles to give in to an excess of appetites and dark desires before rapidly hate-spiraling into despair? (See the immortality ennui of The Old Guard, for comparison.)
And he’s not the only one. Roy (J.K. Simmons), another character stuck in the time loop, demonstrates that even murder and torture are not as unconscionable as they would be in normal times. Nyles, accustomed to doing whatever he wants with no regard for the future (the poster tagline is “Live like there’s no tomorrow”), gives thought to the repercussions of his repetitions only after Sarah follows him in, only when there is someone else in the loop to remember all the terrible things he does.
The movie doesn’t dwell too heavily on it, but the moral of the story may very well be, “What would you do if there weren’t any consequences?”
Josh: I liked J.K. Simmons’s character. I always like his characters. I didn’t know who Cristin Milioti was because I never finished How I Met Your Mother, but I thought she was great in this.
Arley: She did a good job, and her character was pretty complicated. She goes through a wider range of things than Andy Samberg’s character does. Samberg is fairly one-note, with occasional funny expressions as seasoning.
Josh: The film takes its time revealing Sarah’s story, though it might be kind of apparent from the beginning if you’re paying attention.
Arley: One of my favorite parts was when Samberg goes to Roy’s house and says “You haven’t been around for a while,” and Roy says, “I was in the hospital and it made me think about all the stuff I put you through.” It’s one of the deeper moments of the movie. It’s all about empathy. Cycles of misery. Roy thinks, Why I am doing this? I need to accept where I am and enjoy my time with my family.
Josh: A thing that’s started to bother me, the more I think about it, is how Nyles is essentially a pick up artist. Pick up “artists” supposedly use pop psychology to try to shortcut evolutionary and biological drives, and Nyles does the same thing to Sarah. He has iterative conversations with her until he finds the exact dialogue that will get her to sleep with him. Technically it’s consensual, but it’s also very manipulative and seems like a shaky foundation on which to base his entire relationship with her. Does she like him because he’s a genuinely nice guy? Or because he’s had lots of practice saying all the right things?
Arley: You are totally on point with that. Palm Springs also reminds me of 50 First Dates, in the sense of feeling like the movie was built around a specific personality (Sandler in one, Samberg in the other), and the relationship reset over and over. Russian Doll does a lot more for the time loop genre: interesting characters, interesting narratives, quality of story, and it’s full of surprises, in a trope that doesn’t really surprise you a lot. The main character in that is great, and Andy Samberg is not.
Josh: Palm Springs is not innovative for a science fiction movie, but it is for a romantic comedy.
Arley: There were those Happy Death Day movies. I didn’t see them.
Josh: Me neither, but I’ve heard people comparing this to those, insofar as creative suicides.
You may be in it for the romance, to see if Nyles and Sarah get together in the end. Or you may be in it for the science fiction, to see if they’ll escape the time loop. Or you may be interested in both, if they’ll get out of the time loop together! In any case, there’s likely enough will-they-won’t-they in Palm Springs to keep you interested in its 90 minute runtime.
Arley: It’s a slightly silly romantic comedy with a time loop twist. If you like Andy Samberg, like lightweight romantic comedies, and have burned through your top movies, then go ahead and give it a shot. This is entertaining but it’s not something you need to rush to see.
Josh: It’s short, and it moves along. I was engaged the whole time because it’s one of those movies where you try to figure out what you would do in a similar situation. Like It Follows.
Directed by: Max Barbakow
Written by: Andy Siara
Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin & Chris Pang
ARLEY SORG, Associate Editor, grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado. He studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in Oakland, and usually writes in local coffee shops. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he is soldering together a novel, has thrown a few short stories into orbit, and hopes to launch more.
JOSH PEARCE, Assistant Editor, started working at Locus in 2016. He studied creative writing at SFSU and has sold short stories and poems to a variety of speculative fiction magazines. Born and raised in the Bay Area, he currently lives in the East Bay with his wife and son and spends way too much time on Twitter: @fictionaljosh. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.
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