What if you had to repeat the same day over and over again? Without having to suffer the consequences of your bad decisions, this waking dream could find you experiencing that day in all forms and according to your wildest dreams. It’s a fascinating space to exist in, curious to dwell on and fascinating to experience. Film allows audiences to enter this playground thanks to the medium’s power of illusion, making it a compelling narrative construct. It worked for a weatherman reliving the eponymous Groundhog Day, a futuristic soldier in Edge of Tomorrow and a man trying to foil a terrorist plot on a train in Source Code. The dopamine levels are on high alert when death becomes a gimmick – just ask any gamer. While this is the case with Palm Springs, spicing things up with a few knowing deaths – it’s also really funny.
Directed by Max Barbakow, this sometimes raunchy sci-fi comedy focusses on the misadventures of two wedding guests who get stuck in a time loop. It’s only natural for philosophical questions to emerge with every religion trying to claim their piece of the story as in Groundhog Day, but this one’s refreshed by virtue of its co-lead dynamic. What’s better than one person stuck in a time loop… two… okay, three. Palm Springs stars Andy Samberg, who’s tried to model himself on Adam Sandler and has been under his wing ever since. Apart from them sharing the same initials, being Saturday Night Live alumni and mining the That’s My Boy father-son dynamic, Samberg’s film career had a rocky start. He’s gone on to bigger and better things since Hot Rod, becoming better known for his voice and TV work, slowly clawing his way back into mainstream Hollywood with small supporting roles. Now after the runaway success of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he’s coasting on enough oomph and hells-yeah to reiginite his film career.
Whether you’re able to classify him or not, there’s no denying his charm and spunk. Unfortunately for Palm Springs, the sci-fi mystery comedy takes these characteristics quite literally. Mirroring Samberg’s film career, we’re cast in the deep end as the story slowly unfurls from the confines of a morning after. The “stoner comedy” vibrations make it crude and unsavoury at times, but the film’s largely redeemed by its exciting high concept and big heart. The college humour is ripe and rife at first, so if you can get through the first 10 minutes of this nutty movie, know that things do improve.
“I think I left the oven on… oh well.”
He stars opposite Cristin Milioti, tapping into some groovy on-screen chemistry. Starting as friends who just want to have fun, it’s not long before a budding romance develops between them as they serve time in their day ad infinitum. Milioti is probably best known for her roles in Fargo and How I Met Your Mother, chiming in here with her slow-burning charm and fascinating face. The two “youngsters” are rounded off with J.K. Simmons, the Invincible voice star and mental mentor from Whiplash, who’s been a canon blast since forever. Simmons has a husky voice and isn’t afraid to take on crazy person roles with aplomb, giving Palm Springs more credibility.
Set at a wedding, the writers have great fun with toasts, stealing the spotlight, emerging wedding party secrets and herding the oddball characters. Playing up the wedding hijinx, there’s always room for awkward comedy and while Palm Springs has this fun-spirited element, it’s not out of tune with its spiritual dimension in questioning life, the power of choice and the futility of repeating the same day. It may be rough around the edges but this modest comedy outperforms itself, leveraging an intriguing concept and co-lead chemistry to remain compelling. There are a few moments and story devices that could have used a bit more tightening but the wish fulfilment, upbeat sense of fun and seize the day attitude mostly smooth over these flaws.
Palm Springs is a funny, lively, spirited and enjoyable film that overcomes it’s distasteful moments through likeable characters, charming stars and some clever handling of twists-and-turns along the way. Destined to be a cult comedy hit, it’s definitely not for everyone but makes a worthwhile distraction and the breezy 90 minute voyage into the jaded realm of “romcoms” comes with a fresh and funny angle.
The bottom line: Fun