Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner. Director: Max Barbakow
The time loop premise is not a particularly new one, there’s the classic use in Groundhog Day and more recently in the fun slasher-comedy Happy Death Day. With this new rom-com from director Max Barbakow what we get is a film that uses the premise to explore both rom and com to the fullest potential.
Palm Springs follows Nyles a man stuck in a time loop, forced to live through a wedding tow which he is only attending because his girlfriend is a bridesmaid. Nyles and his girlfriend clearly don’t work and when he connects with sister-of-the-bride Sarah it seems perfect, until she follows him into a mysterious cave and gets stuck in the loop with him.
From the off the film tells us it’s going to be both clever and funny, mainly thanks to the involvement of The Lonely Island producing and star Andy Samberg as Nyles. Samberg has the perfect amount of everyman charm, but also the ability to bring real depth to his performance. It’s easy to like Nyles, who isn’t a million miles away from Samberg’s role in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It helps that he’s also paired with Cristin Milioti, so annoyingly underused in so many things here is able to show off exactly what she can do when given a juicy role to sink her teeth into.
The script from Andy Siara works because both Nyles and Sarah aren’t drawn from anything, they feel like real people. Nyles jaded personality and carefree attitude perfectly chime with the more serious-minded dedication that Sarah has. There’s a precision to the plot, when things are revealed, when things are brought back to the fold, perhaps best of all a supporting turn from J.K Simmons in true gruff form as another person in the loop.
The film works as both romantic and comedy because it is both of those things. While worn in a cliche-like conceit the characters and performances are so likeable that it’s impossible not to root for them even as the film reveals aspects of them that is not entirely likeable. While at times the film doesn’t go quite as deep into the character development that it could have, it makes up for it in providing enough jokes to paper over moments where you could have had a little more.
Moreover, it’s a film that obeys its own rules, it’s not one that throws them away willy nilly, and isn’t a film bogged down by explaining what the time loop is and how it works, it’s a magical contrivance that provides the usual opportunity for cringe comedy, gross out and physical moments that will leave you howling.
As Palm Springs moves into its final movement the emotional heft isn’t quite as heavy as other films of its kind, certainly it doesn’t have anything in it quite as lofty as the progression of jaded Tree in Happy Death Day, but even so, its lightness of touch allows the performances to really underline that we have grown to love the two leads as they have fallen in love – in true rom-com fashion.
It’s a film that people will return to time-and-time again, and for a time loop comedy that is exactly what you want.