Palm Springs is an irreverent rom-com with sharp performances – but a lack of originality, writes Caryn James. W
Weddings – fraught with family secrets, clandestine hookups and unruly guests – offer an almost foolproof setting for comedies as different as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridesmaids. Time loops have become almost as reliable for romantic comedies, with Groundhog Day inspiring variations like Fifty First Dates. Palm Springs mashes up the two by setting its time-loop romance at a wedding, creating a genial film with a mildly irreverent spin on both its genres. What the film lacks in originality, it offsets with sharp performances from Andy Samberg as an out-of-place wedding guest and Cristin Milioti as the bride’s sister, who would rather be anywhere else.
Samberg plays Nyles, who goes to a destination wedding at a Palm Springs resort with his girlfriend. He shows up at the formal ceremony in a red Hawaiian shirt and yellow shorts, the first sign that something is askew. Samberg smoothly plays a version of the character he has honed so well as Detective Jake Peralta on his television series, Brooklyn 99. He seems like a goofball, but is smarter than people think and decent to his core.
Milioti is Sarah, the dejected maid of honour, who tells Nyles she is the family screw-up because she drinks too much and sleeps with too many men. Milioti makes Sarah a prickly character, but likable, and more complicated when the film reveals her biggest regret.
The pair meet after Sarah is too paralysed by wine to give the wedding toast, and Nyles steps in to save her with a perfect, eloquent speech. In an antic scene that sets off the plot, they are about to have sex in the desert, which only happens after he spots his girlfriend cheating with another man in the bathroom. They are interrupted by a man shooting arrows (JK Simmons in a small but crucial role). Sarah wanders into a cave and wakes alone in her bed the next morning, which is the very same day as the one before. Nyles has repeated that day countless times already. “It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about,” he tells Sarah, who gives him a death stare.
The wedding is less important than the story’s loopy elements. There are a few funny glimpses of how Nyles and Sarah spend their time, with some scenes loaded into a familiar rom-com montage. They steal a two-seater plane, which they fly and crash. They won’t die. They’ll just wake up in the usual place the next morning. They put a bomb inside the wedding cake so Nyles can heroically find and destroy it. Don’t ask where they got a bomb. The film doesn’t pretend to be interested in explanations, a choice that suits its easy-going tone just fine.
Their time-warp becomes a metaphor for any long-term relationship
The story becomes more intriguing as the predictable romantic question of will-they-or-won’t-they kicks in, with a twist. Sarah is desperate to find a way out of the loop, even if it means she has to becomes an expert in physics. Why not? She has time. Nyles is content to stay inside their comfortable bubble. Their time-warp becomes a metaphor for any long-term relationship. How long can you see the same person day after day after day after day without wanting to bolt? If that tantalising idea had taken root earlier and been developed more, it might have made the film fresher and given it a bit of substance.
Everything here, from the comedy to the romance, is knowingly done with nods to genre conventions. The obligatory climactic rom-com scene in which one person runs frantically after the other – typically in the rain – happens in the desert here, but the tongue-in-cheek use of the trope is clear. Being aware of sources isn’t the same as reinventing them, though.
The off-screen story of how the distributor Neon bought Palm Springs out of the Sundance Film Festival for a record-breaking price says a lot. The price was exactly 69 cents over the old record of $17.5 million. That continues a pattern of buyers paying huge amounts for Sundance films that often don’t come close to making the money back, an issue that is moot now that the film will premiere on Hulu because of the pandemic. More to the point, the joke of setting the new record by pennies is, like the film itself, enough for a fleeting laugh, and not as clever as it might have been.
Palm Springs premieres on 10 July on Hulu in the US.
source: Caryn James