By this point, there are very few places to take the Groundhog Day ‘infinite time loop’ film that we haven’t seen before. Bill Murray’s romcom masterpiece remains the definitive take, and the idea has been cleverly used for pretty much every genre, from slasher horror in Happy Death Day to alien war movie in Edge of Tomorrow. One of the best things about Palm Springs is that it is fully aware that it can’t reinvent this wheel, instead making its mark with lovable characters, great one-liners, and a real sense of the existential confusion that being trapped in time would give you.
The day being repeated is a destination wedding in, naturally, Palm Springs. Whilst getting far too drunk at the reception, sister of the bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti) notices someone in the crowd who seems able to perfectly predict every action at the party. This is Nyles (Andy Samberg), a listless 30-something who no one at the wedding really knows (he’s a plus one), and has, when we meet him, already been living this day over and over for months, or even years. After they drunkenly hit it off, Nyles accidentally drags Sarah into the loop, and so they must learn to live as if they are the only two people on earth.
You’ll probably be able to predict where this time-bending romcom is eventually heading, but the journey to that ending is delightfully unpredictable. Of course, there are the requisite suicides and debauched escapades that are a must in any film about living truly consequence-free, but trippy journeys to the desert, joyous dance sequences, and third resident of the loop – the merciless Roy (JK Simmons), who repeatedly hunts and kills and Nyles – give Palm Springs its own distinct flavour.
Andy Siara’s script is packed with great jokes – one line in particular is bound to go down as one of the year’s very, very best – only occasionally slowing down the laughs to pack in the necessary exposition. Having Nyles already be a veteran of the loop is a brilliant choice, allowing the premise to be explained away as quickly as possible, keeping things from being bogged down. Siara and director Max Barbakow tell their story with impressive efficiency, packing a hell of a lot in to a fleet 90 minute runtime, and the end result is wildly entertaining, even if the ending itself can’t hold a candle to the emotional catharsis of Groundhog Day, over-concerned as it is with the loop itself, instead of the relationships contained within it.
But that’s a minor blip, and even within that blip there are great individual moments, in what is mostly a rollicking good time. Samberg, sadder and more subdued than usual, and Milioti both give great performances, and play off each other really well, while supporting players like Peter Gallagher and Conner O’Malley all get to steal a scene or two. Palm Springs is hardly revolutionary, but its sun-soaked misery and mystery is very funny and compelling, a wonderful 90 minutes with characters you could easily spend hours and hours watching, and the kind of comedic calling card for first-time director Max Barbakow that signals a thrilling career ahead.