Groundhog Day walked so Palm Springs could run. That saying is, at the very least, plastered to the comment section strung along with the latter’s social media posts and YouTube presence. Indeed, it is hard to watch Palm Springs without making a connection between the two films. In 1993, Groundhog Day popularized the ‘single-day repeating’ story that has come to repeat itself in a variety of genres, including sci-fi action (Edge of Tomorrow) and horror (Happy Death Day). Palm Springs understands that the audience is familiar with this genre and plays with its tropes in order to surprise them.
Indeed, much of the film’s value is derived from the screenplay. Specifically, the time structure; where it begins, ends, speeds up, and slows down, keeps the pace perfect throughout the film. Even though it clocks in at an even 90 minutes, the film is by no means short. It is packed with some of the signature “Lonely Island Classics” comedic entertainment, which ranges from quirky self-aware jokes to drawing dick tattoos. The outlandish activities in which the two protagonists, Nyles and Sarah, partake are crazy by nature and only amplified by their shared care-free attitudes and alcoholic consumption.
Andy Siara, the first-time screenwriter, manages to balance these humorous moments with existential conversations about finding meaning in life. Nyles, aptly paired with a nihilistic attitude towards life, finds meaning in being trapped in the time loop. What morals are there in a world without consequence? He, specifically, arrives at some pretty profound truths. For instance, he believes that pain is real and that terrorism upon others has no place in the world. As the film progresses, Sarah uses the time loop to deal with her inner demons. Through her journey, the film has nuanced views on the attempt to rationalize our existence.
One thing that should be noted is that this film hinges its critical and commercial success on the performances of Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, who play Nyles and Sarah respectively. Samberg’s goofy, almost immature nature plays pitch-perfect into his character. However, silliness aside, he does prove his acting chops in the more dramatic moments. Miloti does not have the major screen roles or star power of Samberg, but she does pull of the character with a remarkable amount of style.
The real reason most people should see Palm Springs is how scarcely resonate the film is in today’s climate. COVID-19 has forced many of us to self-quarantine and isolate ourselves from people, giving us an effect that all-time melts into one continuous pot. The days feel like the same while we follow the same routine, live in the same place, see (or don’t see) the same people. It’s easy for many to question their current purpose and meaning in life. While Palm Springs certainly provides an escape, it also makes us reflect on our current state of the world. At its heart, that is one of the peak powers of cinema.