Palm Springs

5 out of 5

Directed by: Max Barbakow

Palm Springs stars Andy Samberg as Nyles, doing his Andy Samberg shtick – constant throwaway sarcasm; moderate nerd culture embrasure; man-child syndrome nudged into a less dadbod variant than the Judd Apatow version – and is plotted around a Groundhog’s Day conceit in which Nyles and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) are trapped in an infinite time loop on the day of Sarah’s sister’s wedding, until they both learn how to be less selfish and love themselves and etcetera…

Except Palm Springs is not an Andy-Samberg-doing-his-Andy-Samberg-shtick vehicle, and it is not a simple find-love-and-happy-ending romcom.

I remember avoiding Brooklyn 99 for a while because I hadn’t found much enjoyment stemming from any of the 00s and beyond SNL stars.  Once we got into a more internet-savvy, meme-aware culture, the nature of humor on that show (and a lot of comedy from similarly-aged comedians) never seemed all that intelligent or funny to me, and Samberg got lumped in with that, including any given Lonely Island video that I was told to watch.  But eventually I caved, and came to appreciate what Samberg does, and also that, in general, people can be limited by SNL and certainly grow beyond it.  I do think that Andy brings a lot of sincerity and heart to his character that’s not only shared by his fellow actors on the series, but understood by its writers.  That said, the show does lean in to his aforementioned shtick, and I completely understand those who might shun it for that very reason.

But I’d still encourage them to give Palm Springs a shot.  Brooklyn 99 uses Samberg directly for laughs; Palm Springs is very funny – it’s rare that I laugh out loud at comedies – but also explores the more sobering aspects of that persona – why he might act the way he does – in the same way that it shatters all the romcom standards by being much more realistic about them.  …While also giving us the satisfaction of some meetcute elements (Nyles and Sarah just so happen to get stuck in this time loop together) and the sense of hope that can make romances stir even the cold, dying embers in a black heart like mine.  However, where most flicks of this nature, even gifted with a kooky sci-fi premise (that doesn’t completely skip over the sci- part of that!), might be content with just putting its pieces into place and essentially following the genre script, Palm Springs characters (and their individual predicaments) are a commentary on that contentment, and so it achieves an especially admirable magic trick: it doesn’t wave its hands o’er romance and forget that our couple were bickering and fighting five minutes ago; it kinda sorta shows you how the trick is done, while still maintaining its sense of awe.

I am nigh a full-on, proud, happy isolationist, and I can appreciate movies that appeal to the “aw shucks this person loves my flaws and all” type flicks, but it’s not something I want, setting aside whether or not I believe in the realism and longevity of that type of attraction.  Nyles has to confront his reasons for his feelings regarding Sarah; Sarah has to confront her reasons for her feelings regarding Nyles – and both Samberg and Milioti are excellent at this, bringing all those recognizable emotional beats and conversations many of us have likely had in our own lives and processing them into their characters behaviors and manners – and they make their decisions in a lovably messy way that’s rather accepting of how selfish all of our decisions are, and also making complete sense for the overall trajectory and tone of the flick.

This may make the movie sound heavy, but did I mention laughing out loud?  Max Barbakow and DP Quyen Tran craft a great look for the flick, straddling the vibes of destination-wedding sunlit-joy and the blase of a day-on-hold repetition; it all looks ideal, but it all looks real at the same time.  And in the same fashion, Palm Springs is undeniably a movie with a meetcute and jokes and a time loop, but it was one of the most real and affecting things I’ve watched in quite some time.