Palm Springs (2020): Review

Andy Samberg & Cristin Milioti in Palm Springs (2020) // Courtesy of Sundance Institute

As we reach a point in the pandemic where the industry is starting to consider what it would take to release films theatrically again, all eyes seem to be pointing towards the year’s big blockbusters to light the beacon and lead us back into those hallowed auditoriums with our ridiculously-portioned popcorn and drinks the size of a human infant. Films like Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending Tenet, Niki Caro’s controversy-riddled Mulan, and Patty Jenkins’ superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984, are the summer’s tentpole pictures being eyed to reinvigorate the cinematic economy following the closures.

For the ordinary movie consumer, the summer is where they watch the bulk of their films for the year. In an average year, there’s more than likely at least three animated features to welcome the younger audiences into their summer break, there’ll be one or two superhero movies, and a smattering of action, family, and franchise offerings to provide sanctuary from the (occasional) summer heat. Obviously this year is different, and the way that movies are being released is changing. The Oscars announced they would be accepting submissions for films that have not completed a theatrical run, so streaming services are benefitting from this.

Palm Springs premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it famously broke the record for the biggest sale in the history of the festival by a whopping $0.69, selling at $17.5 million (plus the $.069 in what can be seen as a huge power move).

Boy, was it worth that money.

If you’ve seen Groundhog Day, or Happy Death Day, or basically any other time-loop movie, you’ll think that you have this film pegged. Perhaps you might, but it doesn’t stop it from being hugely entertaining while offering some surprisingly sobering moments along the way. While there are admittedly some familiar tropes concerning this type of premise, it is absolutely handled with such a fresh finesse by Max Barbakow in his impressive directorial debut.

The basic premise is this: two people, Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) at a wedding get stuck in a time-loop. That’s really all I can mention without spoilers, and there are some great twists in this movie so it’s best to go in blind.

What I can divulge is that Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti have some of the most organic chemistry I’ve seen in a very long time. Their performances alone are really great, tackling the comedy with their usual zeal, but it’s their scenes together that really stand out. There’s one that I really love that involves a dinosaur, so make of that what you will.

The supporting performances are just that in this movie, there’s rarely a moment without the two leads, but the cast do their jobs anyway. JK Simmons brings a unique blend of his paternal energy from Juno and his unhinged energy from Whiplash to this film, and it somehow works. Meredith Hagner also has some really hilarious moments throughout the film’s heavenly 80-something minute runtime.

The writing also stands out. Andy Siara’s script is bouncy, well-paced, and has an infectious wit about it that plays to the strengths of the leads. Is Andy Samberg playing an iteration of Jake Peralta? Sure, maybe we’re just over-familiar with him in that role, or maybe he brings a lot of that same energy to this performance, which happens to suit the character perfectly. It harkens back to the fun comedy of Happy Death Day with Milioti’s character’s attitude, which is so fun to watch. But there are moments in the script which help this movie feel refreshing and avoid some of the pitfalls in tackling such an over-explored trope. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments where the territory becomes a little rote, but the situational aspects of the movie are so entertaining that it doesn’t matter. As with the majority of these time-loop movies, there is a montage which is really satisfying to watch. It barrels through hilarious scenarios that are so fun I want a short film made about each of them.

While dealing with the wedding-movie portions of this film, it can also get a little existential in places, particularly surrounding Nyles’ character arc. It’s so efficiently handled and well-performed that it does get you thinking. It certainly got me thinking about what days I would relive over and over again and what I would do differently each time.

With sharply-written characters and a great take on an old premise, Palm Springs is absolutely one of my favourite movies of the year so far that is just waiting to be enjoyed again and again and again and again, sort of like it’s own very meta time-loop.

Have you seen Palm Springs? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@Jamie_Carrick_)

3 thoughts on “Palm Springs (2020): Review”

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