‘It’s one of those infinite time loop things that you might have heard of.’
This is a line from early in Palm Springs and it could well have also have been the opening of the pitch. At this point the people holding the purse strings will no doubt have responded ‘what like Groundhog Day?’ to which the film makers would have replied ‘yes, but more up to date, with a proper exploration of the regret and existential implications linked to the concept and with two totally endearing characters at the heart of it’. At that stage they probably knew they had Andy Samberg as one half of this duo as well, as he is also a producer, but it is possible that one of the components that is among the movie’s greatest assets wasn’t even part of it at that point; Samberg’s co-star Cristin Milioti. If they’d had any idea of what Milioti would bring to the table they’d have green lit immediately.
Anyway, irrelevant of how many ways that could have played out the outcome was the same and the result is this edgy, nihilistic, utterly charming, beautiful film. One of the first movies I watched in lockdown a year ago was the gloomy, pessimistic trapped in an endless existence film Vivarium and it feels appropriate that as these twelve months come to an end and we get to return to our usual freedoms (hopefully permanently) I’m bookending it with this bright, optimistic trapped in an endless existence film. This was the streaming hit of last Summer in the States but it is only getting to the UK now at possibly the perfect time.
So it is one those infinite time loop things and it is heavily reminiscent of Groundhog Day but even after this idea has been explored on screen in numerous ways this still brings something new. There is a nice examination of whether actions that are erased at the end of every day still matter if someone has lived them and the eventual response of Milioti’s Sarah to the situation is not something we have seen before. There is also a great dynamic between the people who are living in the loop together but I won’t say more on that for spoiling the movie’s treats.
Needless to say Samberg and Milioti are a brilliant pairing. Coincidentally my eleven year old daughter was watching Brooklyn Nine Nine in the other room while I was watching this and she came in and after ten seconds asked me how it was that Andy Samberg was playing exactly the same character in a different film. I ushered her out because this is not a film for eleven year olds but she raised a good point. (You could argue that Brooklyn Nine Nine is not great viewing for an eleven year old either but I know my kid and Palm Springs is on a different side of that fine line.) Milioti probably isn’t a million miles away from her significant part in How I Met Your Mother but she isn’t as well known as Samberg and this is a brilliant calling card for her. Sarah is a wonderful blend of characterisation and performance, she is flawed and a little apologetic but always in the moment and has an incredible sense of agency that drives the plot where Samberg’s Nyles would have it go absolutely nowhere. She also has a great energy that perfectly compliments the complacency of almost everyone else. She has that Ripley Factor that I am always looking for; standing up to extreme circumstances and adversity and not blinking an eyelid when monsters turn up on.
Palm Springs is a great example of a film where everything in it is strong and yet it is still more than the sum of its parts. Appropriately, given the set up, I’m sure it is a film I am going to revisit again and again.