Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Man finds himself reliving the same day until he finds a way to escape the loop. You may have immediately thought of Groundhog’s Day, the Bill Murry classic. That movie came out in 1993. Since then there have been other films that have utilized the concept, including Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day in 2017 (and its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U in 2019). Recent TV shows have also followed this pattern, from Westworld (where the hosts relive the same pre-programmed day until they revolt) to Upload (Amazon Prime), Undone (also Amazon Prime) and After Life (what’s up over at Amazon Prime, anyway?). I could go all the way back to the Greek legend of Sisyphus, but then we would be heading into TL;DR territory. (TL;DR: “too long; didn’t read”)
While Palm Springs can’t boast of having an original concept at its core, it does have an original take on it. Initially, Nyles (Andy Samberg) is the only one caught in an infinite loop. He’s being forced to relive the same wedding day and night over and over. However after a night of drug-fueled revelry with distant family relative Roy (a hilarious J.K. Simmons), he invites Roy along for the ride. Maid of honor Sarah (Christine Milioti) then unwittingly joins him, much to her horror. So now there are three, all reliving the same day on repeat. Here is where the comedy starts.
It goes without saying that Nyles, in a role tailor made for Samberg, approaches his predicament as a slacker. He spends his days coasting in a drunken haze, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts to the wedding party, popping open cans of beers during wedding party speeches, and making plays for Sarah. When Sarah asks Nyles whether he has had sex while in the loop, he admids that he has, but that its a lot of work when you only have a day to seduce someone. There is a hilarious montage with Nyles and his various conquests, with some surprises mixed in there, to be sure.
We learn that while Nyles has been gliding through his meaningless existence, Roy has periodically driven over from Irvine to torment Roy. Queue another hilarious montage. (There is a scene later in the movie where Roy kills Nyles one last time that still makes me laugh.)
When Sarah realizes what has happened to her, Nyles warns her not to do the same things he did. Suicide doesn’t work. And you don’t want to do anything that will result in you winding up in the ICU in pain until you fall asleep. For a while, Sarah shares Nyles penchant for anarchy, joining him in doing incredibly stupid things. This montage is also just as hilarious as the first two. (As you can tell, this movie is a testament in how to do comedic montages.)
About two-thirds of the way through, the movie shares similar DNA to Groundhog’s Day, particularly for Nyles. Sarah, however, doesn’t want to passively relive the same day forever as Nyles has. She did something incredibly embarrassing the night before the wedding and is forced to face her mistake every morning. She uses the time to figure a way out that may either knock her, Nyles and Ray out of their quantum loop, or kill them.
Like Groundhog’s Day and the other films and TV shows I mentioned at the beginning, stories like these invite philosophical discourse. If you had to relive the same day over and over, what would you do? How would you use that time? Who would you like with you during your ordeal? This is where Palm Springs tweaks the recipe a bit. Whereas typically it is the male lead who eventually experiences enlightenment and solves the riddle of his existence, in Palm Springs it is Sarah who uses her time wisely and comes up with the solution. Nyles has been in the loop for so long, he is scared to go back to reality. At one point, he confesses that he can’t remember what his job was. His realization is that he loves Sarah and can’t stand the thought of being without her is what forces him out of his comfort zone. Sarah effectively forces him out of his adolescent comfort zone and back into adulthood.
If you’re reading this and you’re over twenty-five, you can easily see how the movie serves as a metaphor for adult life (a.k.a. adulting). You spend day after day working, being with family, seemingly on infinite repeat, until one day you wonder where all the time went. Cynically, one can understandably feel that adult life is grinding and monotonous, where you spend so much time at work at a job you don’t like, with people you don’t like, only to wind up home eating meatloaf for the umteenth time, watching reruns of programs on TV until you drift off asleep, only to wake up and do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. (That’s not how I feel at all, Hun! :D)
While that assessment may be true to you in varying degrees (or not at all, lucky you!), stories like Palm Springs tell us that it’s not so much the journey, it’s who you share that journey with. If we find people we like to spend time with, spend more time with them. It is our friends and loved ones that make the pointlessness of life enjoyable, or at least bearable until the cycle repeats itself.
I’ve apparently done my best to make Palm Springs seem like a philosophical treatise. The movie is funny as hell, the leads and the supporting characters are excellent, and it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen during the pandemic. Highly recommended.