Palm Springs 2020
Palm Springs 2020

Review: Palm Springs (2020)

The new Andy Samberg vehicle Palm Springs is a modern and refreshing romantic-comedy that captivates the attention.

This comedy directed by Max Barbakow, is a strong directorial debut starring Samberg and Cristin Milioti of How I Met Your Mother fame, in a twist on an old favourite. The plot follows Nyles (Samberg) who meets Sarah (Milioti), the maid of honour at her sister’s wedding and the black sheep of the family.

After rescuing her from a disastrous unexpected toast, she becomes attracted to his offbeat nihilistic attitude and the two hookup, away from the wedding in the desert. So far, so rom-com. The film takes a strange twist here yet as a man with a crossbow is chasing Niles and shoots him before running into a glowing cave. Niles follows him in, crawling along the floor, followed closely by Sarah. She wakes up suddenly in her bed but is soon freaked when she realises that it is once again the morning of the wedding.

Palm Springs is an excellent comedy debut for Max Barbakow

Stuck in a time loop

From here we learn, Niles is stuck in a time loop, reliving this wedding day again and again, after going into the cave previously. Now Sarah has been in the cave, she is stuck in the time loop too. You may think at this point, so far, Palm Springs is a ripoff of Groundhog Day (the timeless Bill Murray classic from 1993). It is a film primarily based around this idea of waking up day after day, with the same events playing out. Yet, I think the film approaches the idea differently and brings something fresh to an old cliche.

Both protagonists are stuck in the time loop with another looper, Roy (played magnificently by J.K. Simmons). He starts out as Nyles’ arch-enemy. The result is a different dynamic from the Bill Murray film, as multiple people are stuck together in this loop, freeing Nyles from the lonely rut he has found himself stuck in.

The film plays out from here with many zany set-pieces, testing the limits of the time-loop theory. No matter how far they run, no matter the kind of death they impose on themselves, they can’t escape their imposed hell.

Palm Springs makes it easy to share the enjoyment of the titular characters.

“a story and film full of heart and soul”

Palm Springs makes it easy to share the enjoyment of the main protagonists. You can see where the story is headed, and you don’t mind in the slightest. Nyles and Sarah have a lot in common, including a dark sense of humour, and their centrepiece montage is a joyous celebration of risk-free mischief. Every recycled day promises a wild new adventure, whether they’re going on desert drives, goofing around in bars or devising ways to freak out the oblivious wedding guests.

The film succeeds with a great script from Andy Siara, that allows the formula to warp from an older format into a fresh and modern film. It refuses to be trapped in the tropes of its genre. Every scene does serve a purpose and develops the characters through their life-affirming changes, but never in a self-serving or hokey way. It never feels forced, and that is perhaps down to the incredible chemistry between the two leads.

The film isn't full of gags and laugh out loud moments as other Samberg projects such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine

It’s a story and film full of heart and soul and plenty of laughs. It’s a merry comedy where the story comes first and at only 90 minutes, it flies by at an astonishing pace and could have perhaps been fleshed out a bit more, with further development of the family characters, particularly the couple whose wedding it is.

I'm sure much of the criticism of Palm Springs is levelled at its derivative nature and some audiences perception of "childish" humour

Is Palm Springs any good?

I’m sure much of the criticism of the film is levelled at its derivative nature and some audiences perception of “childish” humour, but I think that is unfair. It feels like a genuine film that has made an attempt to develop the formula and try something different – and I think different is the key.

Shot to enhance the glorious palette of colours on the backdrop of the dusty California desert, the story shines through the film’s great performances and provides enough laughs to leave the viewer satisfied with a smile at the end. Palm Springs is an excellent debut from the director, Max Barbakow.

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David Roberts
Dave is a digital content creator, web and software developer and keen filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @drobertsdigital.