If I woke up one day and I found myself stuck in an infinite time loop—a Groundhog Day scenario, if you will—I would probably do what the characters in Palm Springs do: initially freak out, then settle in. After all the existential, moral, and theological crises had finally abated and I was firmly in the groove of an Eternal Now, I honestly might use some of the extra time to catch up on reading books and watching movies. If I couldn’t die, and my actions didn’t make a substantial impact on the so-called space-time continuum, then maybe I’d also take more risks, trying new or dangerous activities without chance of embarrassment or dismemberment.
What Palm Springs is about is a cosmological fantasy scenario; what Palm Springs is really about is marriage. The carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg) finds himself at the November 9th wedding of Tala and Abe (Camila Mendes and Tyler Hoechlin) in the eponymous desert paradise, dragged there by his obnoxious girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner). Nyles and Misty are barely putting up with each other, and all the surrounding nuptial celebrations only add to the pressure for them to break up. When Nyles saves maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) from having to give a toast to the bride, the two form a bond, which leads to a romantic tryst in the desert. But when Nyles is shot with arrows by a strange man named Roy (J.K. Simmons) and crawls into a nearby glowing cave, Sarah chooses to follow, ultimately leading her to wake up on November 9. When she confronts Nyles, he reveals that the cave seems to send them into a time loop vortex where they awake on the same day. Together, they have to figure out how to escape their circumstances, or else come to accept their eternal fate together.
The elevator pitch for Palm Springs is essentially “what if Groundhog Day, but Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell are both stuck in the time loop?” But while I’ve seen effective time-traveling or -looping rom-coms (About Time) or action films (Edge of Tomorrow), Palm Springs takes its premise and imbues it with both the witty irreverent humor of the Lonely Island folks, as well as a surprising pathos and honesty about the complexity of marriage and romance in our late-modern era. In a time where the average age of a first marriage is steadily rising (it’s over age 30 in many European nations) and co-habitation or singleness is quickly becoming the norm, a film about marriage which is celebratory (albeit critical) of the institution is a rather countercultural idea. As Sarah and Nyles get to know one another better through their shared experiences, they reach a level of intimacy and friendship where they have to decide whether or not to open themselves up to deeper commitments. Yet they’re also stuck with one another, which can make those commitments feel forced or obligatory. This raises all sorts of interesting questions about human free will, notions of “destiny,” and what makes for a good marriage, questions Palm Springs seems keen on having us explore. And that displays a remarkable maturity and curiosity for a film that features Samberg and Milioti getting high in the desert and hallucinating about dinosaurs. The effectiveness of this balance between silliness and sincerity hinges on the performances of the two leads, and Samberg and Milioti display a kind of madcap romantic chemistry which really works in every scene. In a key scene, the two share this brief moment:
Sarah: “What if we get sick of each other?”
Nyles: “We’re already sick of each other! It’s the best!”
There’s a strange wisdom here, an affirmation that long-term romantic relationships (even marriage) might be worth pursuing. And in our current COVID era, where so many people find themselves either frustratingly separated from loved ones or stuck in lockdown at home with their significant others, Palm Springs brings both levity and poignancy to the situation by reminding us of the gift of presence.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9484998/