“At least you have each other. Nothing is worse than going through this s**t alone.”
This is one of the many great quotes spoken by a character in Hulu’s newest movie titled “Palm Springs,” but it’s also the prevailing sentiment of director Max Barbakow’s feature film debut that’s now available to watch on the streaming service and in select drive-inn theatres.
Take my word for it. Make time ASAP to take the above sentiment to heart, and watch this film with your friends or with your significant other. It’s the best film of 2020, and I believe it’s easily one of the best rom-coms ever made.
Before I go any further, it should be known that this column will be broken up into two parts. The first will be a general, non-spoiler review on why the movie is so special. The second half will get more into the specifics while being full of spoilers.
My advice on how to approach this if you haven’t seen the movie is simple. Go in completely blind for a totally fresh and unique experience. Seriously, the first 15 minutes of “Palm Springs” is a roller-coaster of emotions if you go in blind.
If you want to be reasonably prepared (which is my advice), read the first half of this review. Then come back and read the second half after seeing the movie. Of course, you can always read all of this then watch the movie if you hate fun. You do you. Now, let’s get to it.
The one thing that should be known right off the bat is that the plot of “Palm Springs” is quite frankly “Groundhog Day” for the 21st Century. What’s different about this version of the “time-loop” movie is that the couple at the center of this rom-com is stuck experiencing the same day over and over again together whereas it was only Bill Murray who got stuck doing so in the early 90’s classic.
(This is why the start of “Palm Springs” is so unique and also a bit flawed on a first watch. If you don’t know this central premise, then you will be lost and disoriented at the beginning as it doesn’t tell you at first this it is a time loop. Combine that with some incredible overt sexual imagery in the first five minutes, and you could be turned off quickly.)
It’s a rather simple twist on the idea, but thanks to almost-flawless execution “Palm Springs” builds off the foundation of its predecessor and is easily the better all-round film.
There are three central reasons as to why this is.
First, the film’s two unlikely leads give career-best performances. Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live, Hot Rod, Brooklyn Nine Nine) as carefree Nyles and Cristin Millioti as troubled maid of honor Sarah (How I Met Your Mother) have perfect chemistry with each other. Both Samberg and Millioti are having the time of their lives here.
— lottie ?? (@tlisIand) July 10, 2020
Samberg gets to flex his well-known comedy muscles with often incredible timing, but he also showcases surprising dramatic ability, particularly in an emotional vulnerable campfire scene.
Meanwhile, Millioti is the real star here. Her ability to be so likeable while portraying someone who on the surface seems rather distasteful shows a range of depth as an actress. In many ways, this is her moment and she deserves to be in more stuff.
Not only is their budding relationship completely believable, but Barbakow’s film centers more on each character’s growth and development rather than on the whole “time-loop” premise.
Yes, there is still plenty of fun to be had here with the idea of living the same day over and over again for eternity.
But the second reason as to why “Palm Springs” elevates itself above so many simple and contrived rom-coms is its ability to balance being incredibly funny and entertaining while also dealing with some very serious subject matter when it comes to love and marriage.
Which leads me to the final reason. This is one of the smartest movies I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s not preoccupied with wasting any of the audience’s time. Coming in at a very brisk sub 90-minute run time, “Palm Springs” has a very direct story to tell with its wacky premise playing a very important part in the screenplay. Going any further on this point leads us to a deep dive.
But before I get into the spoiler-specifics, I do want to stress one last time to experience this film without knowing its twists and its ending. The experience just won’t be as rewarding.
PALM SPRINGS is just so much fun. Just such a fun, breezy 90 minutes that is also a pitch perfect rom com. Samberg and Milioti are perfect.
— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) July 12, 2020
Deep Dive/Spoiler Talk
Samberg’s character Nyles has actually been in the time loop for quite some time while Millioti’s Sarah is only just experiencing the “Groundhog Day” scenario at the beginning of the movie.
This places Nyles as a kind of teacher-like character who initially leads Sarah through the insane situation. Of course, with this being a rom-com the two start to fall for one another. It’s at this point halfway in the film where “Palm Springs” begins to shift dramatically into serious territory.
In the aforementioned campfire scene at the movie’s midway point, Nyles explains to Sarah that someone’s past doesn’t matter. Sarah responds to this by saying, “Well, if you want to know someone deeper, it does matter. You have to know the whole package.”
Nyles disagrees and says all that matters is “the next bite” as he takes a bite out of a chocolate bar. Sarah goes on to explain that she was actually formerly married and that ignoring her failed experience would make her destined to repeat it.
When she presses on Nyles’ past, he draws a total blank. Not only can he not talk about his past, but he actually acts like he can’t even remember any of it due to his long stay in the time loop.
What the audience then finds out through two major twists is that they are both, in their own ways, lying.
Please watch Palm Springs on Hulu tonight. I absolutely adore this movie. One of the most unique romcoms I have ever seen- totally transcends the genre and takes it to new levels. Also, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are magical? #PalmSprings pic.twitter.com/CgTqXgX5uK
— Cam Kasky (@cameron_kasky) July 11, 2020
The first twist is that Nyles has actually hooked up with Sarah hundreds of previous times in the loop before she ever entered the loop herself. This, in part, leads him to no longer care about anything in a reality where he formerly could never truly be with her.
The second twist is that Sarah starts the “time-loop day” every morning by waking up next to the groom of the bride she is the maid of honor for. To make matters worse, the bride is actually her sister. Sarah made a horrible decision by sleeping with him and by mere chance she is now “destined to repeat it” forever.
Upon finding out Nyles’ lie, Sarah understands that she must do whatever it takes to escape her impossible situation. It’s time for her to finally grow past her mistakes. She starts to avoid Nyles every day. During this time without her, Nyles realizes he loves her.
Meanwhile, Sarah uses the time to actually learn of a way out of the loop. Eventually, she tells him that it’s time they both leave and get back to reality. Of course, Nyles rejects this and asks Sarah to instead continue to stay with him in this fake reality.
In essence, “Palm Springs” is an allegory for modern-relationships. Samberg plays the typical “sad-boi” who rejects the ability to grow from his past failures. He can never see past his own emotional trauma and therefore lets it corrode him into a shell of himself. He consistently makes the wrong decisions and sabotages himself out of fear of his past.
On the other hand, Sarah is who actually takes accountability for her actions. In a refreshing flip-flop, she is now teaching Nyles. She takes the lead and chooses to move past her failures. Before she leaves, Nyles realizes all of this and tells her that he has finally seen her “complete package” and that he can’t live in a world without her.
They both came to the realization that life is better with the other is in it. In a perfect, if somewhat ambiguous ending, it seems they have made it out of the loop. Either way, they finally don’t care. They completely have each other.
“Palm Springs” is that rare movie that comes along which uses its premise to perfectly portray its central moral. Life is really, really tough. Given the current state of the world today, our generation knows this all too well. Everyone has their complex problems.
It may feel like we are just caught in a never-ending loop of despair (hey, things get dark sometimes). But there is always a chance to grow, improve, and find someone who challenges us. After all, we don’t have to go through all of this alone. And who knows? In the case of “Palm Springs” doing so might just be an awesome time.