Palm Springs Review | Theoretical Lack of Romance

When I first saw the trailer for Palm Springs, I rolled my eyes thinking "great another Groundhog Day movie." Don't get me wrong, I like Groundhog Day, but there are so many takes now on the time-loop subgenre of sci-fi that it can get a bit old. I kept my mind open though, after all, Edge of Tomorrow was a surprisingly fun take on the genre with enough surprises to stand on its own feet, and I decided to wait until I watched Palm Springs for myself before I wrote it off. Prior to release Palm Springs was met with amazing reviews and as of writing this, the film sits at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. I was expecting something closer to the 70% range but with Netflix releasing a steady stream of new original content, it's nice to see Hulu get some attention. With that in mind, I sat down on my couch on release night and hit play on the movie I've heard so many great things about. After seeing the movie, I have mixed feelings about it. While I could see the initial reveal of the premise as a nice surprise to those who were lucky enough to go into the film blind, the rest of it simply fails to bring anything new to the table.

Palm Springs follows two wedding guests, Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), as they are stuck in a time loop, destined to repeat November 9th, Sarah's sister's wedding day, over and over again seemingly forever. If there was an ideal time for a movie like this to come out it would be now, while so many people's daily schedules seem copied and pasted from the day before. Palm Springs starts with Nyles, the first person stuck in the loop trying to sleep with our female lead, Sarah, which sets up for the startling yet comedic entrance of Roy (JK Simmons), the second person who got stuck in the loop. Sarah then follows and joins Nyles into the loop, which is where the story both begins and also becomes quite stale despite a few laughs and gags. Performances all around are solid with the core cast of Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and JK Simmons really stealing the show. Andy Samberg plays a character different from Jake Parolta in Brooklyn 99 but displays enough quirkiness in Nyles that the character feels familiar. Cristin Milioti carries most of the weight in terms of emotional distress and she does so well despite her character being the one that makes the most outlandish decisions. JK Simmons, who unfortunately isn't in the movie too much, plays one of the most interesting characters in the film, a topic we'll get into later.

In a movie like Palm Springs, one that isn't trying to reinvent the wheel, there needs to be great chemistry between the lead characters in order for the experience to be enjoyable, and while the actors own their characters, the writing doesn't fully capitalize on their charisma. There is fun to be had throughout the movie and the friendship between Nyles and Sarah is entertaining to watch. It's when Nyles and Sarah's romance begins to form that things get awkward. Their love is not understandable because we don't spend enough time with Nyles beforehand to know how monotonous the loop life can be, and therefore we aren't shown how much Sarah has changed his life. And while they do have a nice montage to showcase their bond grow stronger, it feels more like two best friends and it doesn't hold enough truly meaningful moments to justify his decision in the end as rational. Due to this, their love felt scripted and forced in as a way to make the plot more interesting and not because the two characters actually loved each other.

Palm Springs mixes the genres of time-loop sci-fi and rom-com quite well, however, despite many reviews I've seen referring to it as "fresh," most of what's in it has been done before. The film does attempt a further commentary on the meaning of life, through complex concepts of multiple universes and its attempts to tell us that love conquers all, a notion that feels oddly similar to Interstellar. But the entire movie just beats you over the head with these themes and at the end, it simply repeats what it's been saying since the start with few surprises along the way. I will say that the reveal of where Sarah woke up every loop was a curveball. The whole film just feels like it was a fun comedy that tried way too hard to have a dark and deeper message, but instead of making obvious choices to show the viewer the messages, they chose to deliver them during speeches and dialogues from the characters. I would liken this movie to spending an entire lecture with a professor questioning if 2 + 2 was actually 4 for an hour and twenty minutes only to spend the last ten telling you that, yeah, 2 + 2 is 4.

On a positive note, the colorful sets and locations of Palm Springs are lensed beautifully by cinematographer Quyen Tran. The movie is also paced well and manages to never get too slow or boring. However, it also feels like the film needed more time to tell its story. At only 1 hr 30 mins, there are a lot of montages used to deliver information, which does work well for the time loop since it is just the same day over and over again, but it prevents the audience from getting more than a cursory look at any actual character growth. Sarah was not given enough of a character arc to be redeemed but to go more into that, I need spoilers.

SPOILER WARNING: Nyles and Sarah fall in love. (Though I'm not positive how.) Sarah definitely has her flaws, and I'm all for a redemption arc, but she really never does anything to redeem herself. After days spent getting to know Nyles, she then abandons him with no note and goes off to figure out how to get out of the time loop on her own. One of the most important messages that we are told during Andy's final speech before they blow themselves up, is that they need to learn how to accept that they need other people. But yet Sarah solves this mind-mending problem on her own? Even when she calls a scientist to ask for help on her theory to break out of the time loop the man just shrugs and says "it seems you don't need my help." In a case like this, I would much rather see the characters go through the process of learning advanced science and mathematics together so they can tackle the dilemma. Maybe even throw in some help from Roy and make it a big team effort. But instead, we got a learning montage topped off with a speech telling us what we are supposed to feel and what the moral message of the story is. 

Also, more about Roy, his character is horribly underused. The plot of a man who got trapped into a time-loop because he's on drugs and listens to another loony on drugs, therefore leading him on a mission to seek revenge, only to then feel the pain himself and learn how to appreciate what he does have is a MUCH better story and character arc for a film than that of Nyles and Sarah. END OF SPOILERS.

Overall, Palm Springs does a good job of being a by the books rom-com with some time loops thrown in for fun, but the character's emotions and the story's messages are delivered through forced dialogue and unearned speeches. This isn't a movie I would personally rewatch, but if you're in the mood for a movie that won't test your beliefs and has good performances, go for it!

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  1. Sorry, I disagree. I thought their chemistry as best friends was a nice touch for a romance. I love Sarah's redemptiona arc. She was a shitty person and became a better one through choice. I do agree though that it felt too short in parts. Could have done with another 20-30 minutes.