Sunday, July 12, 2020


We’ve basically been here before, but, then again, so have they. “It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might’ve heard about,” he (Andy Samberg) tells her (Cristin Milioti) the first time she joins him. Like Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, or a few of the best Star Trek episodes, though not quite in that league, Palm Springs is a story about a character reliving a day over and over and over. He’s used to it by now. (What a time for a movie about every day’s routine being exactly like the last.) We join him who-knows-how-long into this loop, on the day she eventually accidentally follows him into this temporal trap. Why are they there? It’s hand-waved immediately. Something about an earthquake, a weird orange light shining up through cracks in the desert, and a magic cave. We’ve seen other time-loop stories. We know what’s up. The two of them are lost souls careening recklessly through life, adrift on a sea of endless abyss. They meet at this wedding. It’s her sister’s (Camila Mendes). His girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) is the maid of honor. Neither lead really fits in at this party. They’d rather drink and mope, zone out and smirk sarcastically at the proceedings. They get along just fine. In fact, both performers bring big best friend energy to the film, simpatico before they know it, that rom-com fizz that feels like when you hear two acquaintances started seeing each other and you think, yeah, that seems about right. They fit right into each other's flaws, and with the trial-and-error allowances of their plight. They get up to trying new things, and taking a few big risks, each time waking up the next morning like it never happened. People in these types of stories often go wild for a while, with suicidal hedonism taking over now that they’re free of lasting consequences. I dunno, I’d be too scared that’d be the day the loop would end as suddenly as it started.

Like for Bill Murray’s cranky weatherman in Groundhog Day, there’s a clear sense Andy Siara’s screenplay is setting up this couple’s time loop as a form of moral instruction, having these characters make all kinds of mistakes until they finally figure out how to live right. Unlike that superior film’s philosophical picture of loneliness and self-improvement, this one is a cracked form of dating, as the two of them test out ways of being together, see new sides of each other, drift apart, and reunite under the umbrella of the high concept. It doesn’t exactly pile on the details like better stories of this ilk, taking little pleasure in the small repetitive details, to the point where side characters are mostly one-note toss-offs, no matter how nice it is to see Peter Gallagher. And, ignoring most farcical potential, there’s much more that could be wrung out of its complications. Though it does zig into some surprisingly open-minded and relaxed ideas about what they might experiment with, the movie's never as clever as its premise demands. But director Max Barbakow, in his feature debut, gives it such brightly-lit Instagram-filtered shine and low-key mood, a chill vibe even when escalating into comic sex and violence or spiraling into some dark implications of what it means to live trapped in this situation. It draws humor out of how casual Samberg can be about this—his own first reactions to his repetition having happened long ago. And it gets a tad serious as it allows Milioti to question her options. Does she really care about him, or is he the only other person who can understand their main problem? The movie is somehow light on its feet about bleak sci-fi concerns, a quirky rom-com arc polishing a Black Mirror loop-de-loop nightmare. If you see it, consider how tricky an initially-antagonistic role for J.K. Simmons is, burdened with its biggest swings and smallest emotional turns, and how he balances between over-the-top cartoony actions and sensitive despair. That’s pretty much the key to the movie right there, humble little character surprises in pleasantly predictable genre packagings.

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