Time loop movies aren’t new; the genre’s classic is the Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell rom-com Groundhog Day (1993), but other standouts include the excellent 2014 Emily Blunt/Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow and even the decent teen slasher comedy Happy Death Day (2017). And don’t forget Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne’s darkly hilarious 2019 Netflix series (renewed for a second season, but who knows when that will be released?) The challenge with the time-loop formula—that one or more characters are experiencing the same time period over and over again—is in finding something fresh to do with it. Fortunately, writer Andy Siara and first-time director Max Barbakow have managed to do that with the very entertaining Hulu original Palm Springs, thanks in part to its stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milloti.
Samberg plays Nyles, whom we meet at a wedding at which his girlfriend is the maid of honor. Nyles doesn’t seem too interested in the wedding itself, popping beers throughout the ceremony in his loud Hawaiian shirt but eventually catching the eye of the bride’s sister Sarah (Milloti) thanks to some nifty dance moves and a surprisingly eloquent, seemingly impromptu speech to the happy couple. That night out in the desert, something happens that will change both of their lives forever…or at least until they wake up the next morning (which, of course, isn’t the next morning at all).
Samberg is well cast as a guy whose sense of humor helps him deal with the absurdity of his situation and the meaninglessness that eventually comes with knowing that your actions, no matter how heroic or bizarre, will only be washed away again and again. And Milloti (How I Met Your Mother; Fargo) is the perfect foil, willing to shake things up and challenge his nihilism—and he’s had a long time to reinforce his own attitudes. J.K. Simmons is also great fun as Roy, a man whose animosity toward Nyles adds another fun twist to this particular looper.
Sure, some things about Palm Springs will seem familiar; we might feel a bit like its characters, wondering if we have seen this all before. And perhaps it is mostly because we’re all stuck in our own loops during this pandemic, stranded in the same place, day after day, to the point that anything new, even if familiar, is at least something. Time will tell.
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