Saturday, July 11, 2020

Palm Springs


It's the wedding day of her little sister, and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) isn't feeling it. She's saved from a maid of honor speech she didn't know was required of her by a strange guy in swim trunks and a Hawaiian shirt who gives a speech that she feels like is directed at her. Then he dances through a crowd as if he knew every move each person would make. Weird, but funny. He's Nyles (Andy Samberg) and the day only gets weirder from there, once they go out in the desert together and a man with a camo-painted face starts hunting Nyles with a compound bow. Sarah follows Nyles into a cave where there's a weird orange light -- and then wakes up on her sister's wedding day. Again.

Now available on Hulu!

Yep! It's a time-loop movie. With the slight twist that people can share the loop. Nyles has been there a long time, and so has bow-hunting man (J.K. Simmons), and naturally, Sarah's mad that she got stuck too, even though Nyles definitely told her not to go in the cave. How to escape the loop? And what to do to fill the days until they figure it out? Well, the movie has a fun answer for the first question. It's answer for the second is a mixed bag.

Since the death of the 90's rom-com, every rom-com now must have an explanation for when there's a slightly fantastic element needed to create the situation. Bill Murray's time-loop had no explanation, nor did it need one. But this movie does. I find that unspoken requirement worryingly limiting, but this flick takes good advantage. It's scifi streak is one of the better things it has going for it. The movie is strongest when the streak is more prominent. It's mostly at the beginning and the end, when you feel the weight of the weird, impossible circumstance, and the characters have a clear goal in front of them -- of escape.

Without a goal the movie begins to sprawl distractedly.

In the middle, particularly the earlier middle, it's more about having fun with the loop and doing all the things you'd do if you knew what will happen every day. This is where mediocrity creeps in. Perhaps slightly because both our main characters are aware and make different choices every day, so the looping doesn't feel as present. But they're also put away from the wedding party too often, which gives their days unwanted variety. The repeated moments are limited to one or two lines, never entire scenes or even conversations. Instead they get to know each other through the days. Almost like a normal rom-com. But the film does insert some character mysteries for the audience to pick up on during that time, too.

These "mysteries" were my favorite thing because of the slight way they were introduced, and then handled to bring some genuine depth to the characters. The film still leans heavily to the comedy side, but a little drama and a tad of darkness rounds out the tone. Even more rounding would have been welcome if handled well. But Andy Samberg is far more suited to comedy anyway. He ranges from charming to cynical, but it's all for humor. Cristin Milioti isn't as effortlessly funny, but also digs in deeper for the dramatic moments. Their chemistry was bubbly and warm, which sets a pleasant, light-hearted feel for the film. Even when the movie went too far for me, it was hard to be irked for too long.

I didn't fall in love, but I was charmed enough to not care.

Palm Springs doesn't waste its time trying to stand out from the pack of movies that took inspiration from Groundhog Day. Instead, it embraces the comical situation, feeds the expected romantic side without too much cynicism, and doesn't neglect pondering a little on the deeper side of life, with a lightly life-affirming message. It throws a few new elements at us to keep us on our toes, but at its core, it's classically done. And though the execution isn't without missteps or unnecessary rabbit trails, it clearly understands the appeal of this niche and always fun premise. Like a familiar and cozy place that you can visit again and again.

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