There have been many banner days in the history of American Comedy but maybe none more overlooked than December 17, 2005. The debut of “Lazy Sunday” on Saturday Night Live brought about two lasting effects. First, SNL garnered a whole new legion of fans aching to watch the latest in the SNL Digital Video series. Second, Andy Samberg solidified his role as SNL “go-to-person” and spent another six seasons developing his knack for goofy comedy that finds a way to be both highbrow and lowbrow at the same. Throw in seven seasons of the hilarious and always timely Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Samberg’s resume and place in pop culture grows with every day.
And while he has worked steadily in film as well (I Love You, Man, Friends With Benefits, Celeste and Jesse Forever) he may have finally segued in to official “leading man” territory with his hilarious and heartfelt work in Palm Springs. From writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow, the film is a subversively funny and unexpectedly charming romantic-comedy that finds Samberg in his element and Cristin Milioti getting to shine as well.
In a plot that can best be described as Groundhog Day for the millennial set, Palm Springs (the city) is the backdrop for a day (or a multitude of days) in the life of Samberg’s Nyles. We don’t get much, if any, of a back story but from the moment he wakes in a desert resort, we know Nyles is having “one of those days.” After barely crawling out of the bed for a bout of meaningless near-sex with his high maintenance girlfriend (Meredith Hagner), he meanders to the pool in what seems like a daily routine of pool lounging and binge drinking.
Cut to the evening, where Nyles somehow fits in at a lavish wedding despite wearing a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts. After some ceremonial niceties, things come to a noticeable halt when the sister of the bride, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), is the put on the spot for an impromptu toast. Nyles steps in and delivers an effortless speech about marriage, love and what it means to be found. This is the first of many hints to Nyles living “many lives.”
Sarah is subsequently drawn to Nyles and after a romantic sojourn to a nearby cave (and one jarring moment of comedic violence) she finds herself drawn to a light. The next day, Sarah wakes and realizes fairly quickly she is in, as Nyles describes, “one of those infinite time loop situations that you might have heard about.” What ensues is Sarah trying every trick in the book to escape, with Nyles as her nonjudgmental guide. Of course, these two will fall in love and there will be plenty of obstacles, which include Sarah’s very shady recent past and Nyles having to avoid the murderous revenge of the seemingly innocuous Roy, played with maniacal glee by Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons.
Palms Springs might inspire some cinematic Déjà vu but it still finds ways to surprise you between the witty script by Andy Siara and the finely tuned direction of Max Barbakow. On the one hand, we have this outrageously choreographed scenario where Nyles and Sarah takes turns “living like there’s no tomorrow.” This may best be represented by a montage of all of Nyles’ sexual conquests (which includes a few men.) On the other hand, the film has a justifiable sweetness ala Groundhog Day. It only works because we like these characters and want them to find happiness.
Samberg continues to build on his Golden Globe-winning work from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, giving us a surprisingly layered Nyles who is much more than his slacker exterior. Milioti, who is best known to me portraying scorned or dying characters (How I Met Your Mother, Fargo, The Wolf of Wall Street) is a
true revelation. As Sarah, she gives us a complex heroine who is far from perfect, just a little vindictive, and loads more interesting than the stereotypical “dream girl” prototype usually on display in traditional Rom-Coms. Samberg and Milioti have undeniable chemistry and in the end while love is an answer it is not THE answer to escape the loop. Without spoiling too much, I was happy to see the introduction of Quantum Physics as a remedy as opposed to just “being the best you.”
Palm Springs certainly embraces the messiness inherent in all things love, family and life...thrown into a blender of sci-fi relativity. There are plenty of ethical and philosophical questions pondered in the film. As for me, I would begrudgingly relent to my own time loop with endless carbo-loading coupled with no waistline repercussions. Grade: B+