Palm Springs


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Palm Springs
"Palm Springs is appealingly playful and deceptively smart." | Photo: Chris Willard

Time loop films are inherently divisive. There are a handful of smart ones, like Source Code, which actually have something to say, but many that just repeat themselves over and over to no avail. If, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, you find that the thought of being caught in one makes you want to scream, you'll sympathise with this film's hero, Nyles (Andy Samberg), who has been living the same day over and over again for literally years.

Tala (Camila Mendes) is getting married to Abe (Tyler Hoechlin) in an outdoor ceremony in the titular resort town. Nyles' girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is a friend of the happy couple and has brought Nyles along as her plus one - which means that every morning he has to wake up with a woman he doesn't much like, who likes him even less, and retread steps which probably felt artificial the first time. We will soon learn that, like a frustrated video gamer, he has experimented with pretty much everything he can think of within this scenario, but on this occasion he has set his sight on charming the bride's chronically bored sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) - and a subsequent mistake leads to Sarah being caught in the same loop.

Copy picture

It's an absurd plot, of course, but screenwriter Andy Siara finds a surprising amount within it. Little time is wasted on explanations. If you think of a possible solution, the chances are that Nyles has already tried it - after all, he's had nothing else to do. It doesn't take long for Sarah to determine that he's telling the truth, at least as far as his understanding of the rules is concerned. Of course, she blames him for getting her into this situation. She didn't want to be at the wedding the first time around. And to make things worse, there's a third person caught in the loop - Roy (JK Simmons) - who is determined to make Nyles suffer.

The sheer glee with which Nyles and Sarah set about destroying their environment once it becomes clear that no-one can really get hurt because they'll just wake up the same way tomorrow is delightful, and getting under the skin of the various wedding guests to tease out their secrets also proves entertaining. Sarah warms to Nyles in the process, but it's clear throughout that she wants more. Here the marriage theme rears its head again, because whilst she might have been up for a fling with him, the realisation that they're stuck with one another's company for what may be an eternity makes her feel very differently. A scene in which the pair visit Roy's house offers some reflection on what, in a situation of this sort, emerges as really important.

Exploring these themes with a light touch, Palm Springs is appealingly playful and deceptively smart. All three leads are impressive, giving their characters nuance and depth. Simmons makes a marvellously entertaining foil but it's easy to feel for his character too. Science fiction is rarely this warm, romantic comedy rarely this deft. it's a film you might want to watch more than once to catch everything, and you'll find it an enjoyable way to spend your time.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2021
Share this with others on...
Palm Springs packshot
When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honour Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated the next morning when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.

Director: Max Barbakow

Writer: Andy Siara, Andy Siara, Max Barbakow

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, JK Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Peter Gallagher

Year: 2020

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Sundance 2020

Search database: