As the world comes closer to ending our hellish reality of being home, non-stop, for the past year (plus some change), I decided to gain strength and patiently wait my turn to get vaccinated, by watching a movie about a never-ending time-loop; that should take my mind off things!
Palm Springs is co-written and directed by Max Barbakow (with Andy Siara writing the script), and stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as two wedding guests who are caught in a never-ending time-loop that begins and ends on the same wedding day. Besides the obvious comparisons to other, legendary rom-coms Palm Springs won’t win any originality awards or convince anyone immediately due to the sheer ambition it seemingly has, based on the poster or just the premise; that is why shallow people don’t have as much fun. From minute one up until the final moments, Palm Springs is a hilarious, inventive, and smart comedy life’s endless time-loops, existentialism, and finding out how weird and goofy they can get without decreasing the characters’ believability; spoiler: very goofy and weird.
As always with comedies, I don’t really want to talk about the comedy, because it is extremely subjective and would literally ruin the fun of the movie if I spoil the jokes and deliver them poorly. Having said that, if you are a fan of Samberg’s style and, specifically, The Lonely Island brand, then this movie is right up your alley and it is one of their best attempts to date; although only Samberg makes an appearance, this is under their production company, and I’ve generally been really fond of their output.
Even if you don’t particularly enjoy their sense of humor, I still think Palm Springs is a must watch. This is an inventive, well-acted, and well-written movie, whose main focus is to make you laugh, but it also uses its time to make you think and care. That mixture is personified by Cristin Milioti who is just astoundingly good in this movie; she nails everything she was asked of. She has tremendous chemistry with Samberg and pulls off comedic (and dramatic) timing like a seasoned pro, she gives her character the nuance it deserves, and she sells the believability of an impossible situation, especially as someone who is reliving her worst day of her life. Samberg, as well, is pretty good; he is his usual self, but with a bit more desperation and hopelessness. He is not as good at the dramatic stuff as Milioti, especially when his character goes into a bit more about his background, but he is as funny as ever and plays off very well with the various guest stars of the movie (they are not really spoilers, but I won’t ruin the surprise in case you don’t know). A lot of this praise has to also go to Barbakow who guided and directed the movie to such a high standard; although the CGI is not the best quality, some of the visual work, and framing are evocative and great. There are so many pitfalls to fall into with movies like this and so many ways a less dedicated director could get sidetracked or loose momentum and pace, but Barbakow nails it, which is even more impressive considering this is his feature-length movie debut (he has worked on several, acclaimed shorts and a documentary previously).
What I appreciate the most about this movie is that it comes out swinging for the fences from minute one; just the twists and little wrinkles it reveals in the opening minutes could be enough material for other writers to exploit and make those the entire point of the experience, but those initial reveals are just the start. The movie wants to have fun, be weird and funny, get into all kinds of shenanigans – and it does that brilliantly – but, it also wants to use the set up to explore more philosophical ideas; existentialism is an obvious theme, but identity and the importance of the past on the present and future, life hitting a stalemate that repeats over and over again. In an hour and thirty minutes, Palm Springs sets up a goofy rom-com with great chemistry, an abundance of funny gags and witty dialogue, but it also attempts to have a philosophical and moral debate with the audience, and successfully makes them wonder and think.
As far as criticisms go, there are a few aspects that could have been done better. As I’ve said I find the CGI not particularly great, but they are a small aspect of the visual package, however the general production value does make it clear that budget-wise, they were not on the high end; they are very smart with the use of what they have, but it does begin to show that it isn’t much. Furthermore, the way the movie is resolved was kind of rushed; without spoiling it, the way the central conflict comes to an end is not really my gripe, but the process of arriving to that feels somewhat thrown together and rips off similar time-loop movie cliches without subverting or recontextualizing it in interesting and smart ways, like it had done up to that point.
Overall, I was surprised by how much I liked Palm Springs and how inventive and witty it was. I hope the movie does well enough and Barbakow et al get bigger budgets and more chances to create more unique and interesting ideas. For now, you should an hour and a half out of your own time-loop to watch this movie about time-loops, because it will make time go puff!