Spoilers about Palm Springs will follow.
Palm Springs, the time loop romantic comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, has finally got it’s release in the UK, debuting on Amazon Prime on Friday. The film was originally released almost a year ago in the US, on the streaming service, Hulu, and immediately gathered a devoted fan following and widespread critical acclaim.
The film was immediately dubbed a supremely timely and felicitous movie in these pandemic times – essentially focusing on Samberg’s character, Nyles being stuck in an infinite time loop with no hope of escaping. After deciding to just exist in this new reality and giving up trying to ever escape, Nyles is surprised to discover that bridesmaid in the wedding, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is also stuck in the same time loop with him.
When you hear about any kind of new “time loop comedy”, you get immediate flashbacks to films of the same kind, in particular, Groundhog Day. However, this film is able to elevate itself from the pack, by showcasing an incredibly inventive and intelligent script (written by Max Barbakow and Andy Siara) that always manages to stay well ahead of its audience.
The film’s opening premise is one of the many ways the film succeeds in being innovative. At the beginning, we don’t see a character go through this change of becoming stuck in a time loop (like we do with Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day), actually we approach Nyles’s character at a point where he has been in the loop for a long time. This creates a refreshing change of pace, showing us a character that already knows all about this environment, and doesn’t need to figure out about it along the way.
And, then we are introduced to Sarah. Sarah is the Bill Murray of this movie as she discovers the new situation she is stuck in, in almost real time. She is our audience surrogate as we discover what is really happening as she does, however, this time, is accompanied by a helper who knows exactly the situation she is going through.
But that’s just the beginning – what happens to Sarah and Nyles throughout the rest of the film is the really inventive part. The script intentionally keeps secrets from the audience, and in fact, there is much to be revealed about our two lead protagonists that we didn’t know on the surface. Although, the film has been immediately compared to Groundhog Day, it actually has more in common with films like Gone Girl and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in its use of unreliable narrators.
When we are introduced to Sarah, we are introduced to a strange mystery surrounding her character. Whenever Sarah wakes up in the morning, we hear the shower turning off, and we immediately discover that someone else is in the room with her. At first, we think nothing of it – the “screw up” that she is identified as, has probably just had sex with someone at the wedding. However, the film keeps reminding us of this, up until the point where Sarah actually forgets the secret she is holding.
And, then it is revealed – Sarah has actually has sex with her sister’s fiance, of whom they are actually at the wedding of. The secret comes to a big surprise to the audience, and we discover the amount of guilt that Sarah has been carrying. However, we are not revealed to this secret for a long time. Even after Sarah has actually revealed this secret to her sister during one of the loops (hoping that this will release her from the time loop, believing that it is all down to karma), the audience are not actually told about it.
The genius of Barbakow and Siara’s writing is that they manage to keep this a secret until it actually means something for a character – at this point, Sarah is overcome with grief and decides to change her life, which firstly means escaping from this time loop. In this film, there is very little plot drive to speak of. The plot revolves around two characters who are doing absolutely nothing – just “wasting time” in their reality. However, this plot development gives the film it’s drive that it needs during its final act.
Not only that, but the film reveals a big secret about Nyles near the end of the second act. Throughout the film, Nyles continuously tells Sarah that they have never had sex in this reality. From this, the two form a friendship which turns into a relationship. Just as Sarah becomes convinced that everything in their life is “meaningless”, Nyles reveals the truth – he has seduced and slept with Sarah many times in this reality.
This is an ingenious concept that showcases the script’s real talents – finding hidden twists and details in a narrative that has been done to death. It represents an interesting moral dilemma – what would you do if you were stuck in a time loop, and someone then gets stuck with you. Do you tell them everything that has happened, or do you try to start afresh in this new reality. This recent twist is even more clever as it really comes out of nowhere – Sarah’s secret is something that has always hinted at, while Nyles’s secret comes across as a huge surprise.
These twists are not just exciting and thrilling, but also really work in the context of the narrative. Both Sarah and Nyles are in a literal rut, stuck in a day that repeats itself, and reality that they think they know literally everything about. As the two discover each other’s secrets, the two discover that this reality is still full of surprises.
At the end of the movie when the time loop has been restored, and Nyles and Sarah have returned to their reality, Nyles makes a passing comment that he now has to go get his dog back from a neighbour. Again, the movie has revealed a surprising secret about Nyles’s character not just to Sarah, but to the audience. Both characters remark that they will become sick of each other in this reality, however, the film shows us that there will always be surprises in store. We never fully know someone, and actually in this case, this is a good thing. Ultimately, the couple discover that life is full of surprises.
Palm Springs is a comedy broadly speaking. It has all the sex jokes and immature humour that can be expected from a comedy starring Andy Samberg, however, this time, there is a real intelligence to it.Featuring a cracking script from Barbakow and Siara, Palm Springs is a smart, intelligent, lovely and really funny movie that remains a real contender for the best movie of 2021.