Palm Springs: A Funny Question of Time and Love
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
We just keep talking about time in 2020. What else are we going to do? We’re stuck in it. Shutdowns, reopenings, and delays. Routines shattered, normalcy pined for. What the hell is going on and what even matters. Palm Springs was bought by Hulu and Neon for $17.5 million at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, making it the biggest deal in the history of Sundance. That was before the year went to the wayside. Now, the film broke Hulu’s opening weekend record for most hours watched on its first three days. One can think it wouldn’t have garnered that much attention if theaters were open and life was normal right now. But here are and Palm Springs thankfully gets its deserved due.
Since it seems like we’re stuck in our own nihilistic time-loop, Palm Springs is the content we need right now. Fortunately, it’s not all dark and meaningless. It’s a romantic-comedy (proving once again this genre is not dead as long as it’s more original and well-made) set to the tune of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s classic 1993 film where he relives the same day over and over again. This concept has been used again since Harold Ramis’s film (50 First Dates, Happy Death Day, Russian Doll, Edge of Tomorrow), but Palm Springs- with one simple additional tweak- is the fun modern version that not only coincidentally reflects our current lives but also deftly explores young love, loneliness, and marriage.
Andy Samberg is Nyles, less goofy here, more bleak and sardonic yet still funny. It’s Cristin Milioti who really shines as the self-hating Sarah, the younger sister of the bride at the endless wedding in the desert of Palm Springs. Endless at first for Nyles, who starts out the movie already stuck in the loop, reliving the same wedding day at Palm Springs over and over again. How long has he been in here? We don’t know and it’s so simple, yet genius screenwriting to omit his entry into the loop. The explanation is left for Sarah to hear, who sort of takes a liking to Nyles after he saves her from making her maid-of-honor speech. Then Roy- an always stellar J.K. Simmons- shows up, also stuck in the loop thanks to Nyles. Things get violent then weird. Sarah follows Nyles to a glowing red cave and gets herself stuck, waking up to the same day just like Nyles. Nyles walks her through the California desert and amusingly talks her through the rules of this repetitive infinite loop. Sarah, of course, goes through the motions that Nyles already learned. Incredulous then curious then complacent.
This is where things get really fun. Naturally, Sarah and Nyles start to fall in love. The comedy is sharp and witty (it’s so clever, the deeply sarcastic dialogue can almost be missed but Samberg and Milioti's deliveries are spot on) while the romance is bubbling with chemistry and truth. Even with a fast-paced 90 minute runtime with some jolting editing, there’s so much to enjoy and so much to think about. The film doesn’t strictly adhere to the lives (day?) of Sarah and Nyles. Even Roy, a decently happy family man turned vindictive and sadistic to Nyles for getting him lost in the loop, ultimately finds peace inside of it and reconciles with his infinite life, living the same day over and over again with his beloved wife and children.
Nyles has accepted this life too, but in a much more meaningless way. Nothing matters in the loop. It’s always the same. Until Sarah joins him. She changes everything. She makes it fun. She stymies his loneliness and gives some meaning to this existence. He wants to stay forever with her in a sort of paradise of love. But in another brilliant subversion of genre tropes, Sarah isn’t there for Nyles. She has a life outside of the loop that she remembers and while she starts to fall in love with him, she knows that a consecutive, invincible existence with him is the only reason for staying and that is the very problem. Plus, Nyles and Sarah may already have a history- more sexual- that Sarah doesn’t know about. Love isn’t always the first person you meet eyes with across the room after a long bout of loneliness, but rather the person you choose to get to know, to understand and live with. There’s no harm in making sure. With a limitless life where nothing matters, there’s none of the hard vitalities of life: growth and change. Essential workers of the human condition.
Sure, it’s appealing to stay in a nihilistic lifestyle where everything is the same, you can do whatever you want without consequences, and live without feeling much. But ultimately, that’s just sad. We have to face life. Sarah knows this, even with her shame and self-destructing tendencies of normal life pushing her to stay. Nyles probably knows it too but he doesn’t care. It’s been too long now. He’s the sad-sack, pretentious millennial. He’s done everything he can do in there and while he claims to have forgotten his past before the loop, he’s still ostensibly haunted by it. It’s pointless to think, more soothing to live in the perpetual present. Eventually, though, he gets bored. There really is so much you can do in life, even if you are immortal.
Sarah loves Nyles but she researches for a way out while Nyles realizes that he’d love Sarah under any circumstance. It’s a sweet little movie wrapped up in the bittersweet questions of time and love and life. My favorite movie of 2020 so far because its arrival is perfect not just for me personally, but for the world. It runs somewhat parallel to our current lives, but it’s also smart, fun escapism. Plus, it’s always good to be reminded in refreshing ways of the joy of love. How having someone to face the challenges of every day can make life way better.