Published on July 13th, 2020 | by Craig Silliphant0
Palm Springs is a comedy for the masses that has another layer of deep though beneath the surface. One of the best of the year.
Palm Springs is a fascinating intersection of art and commerce. It has all the hallmarks of a goofy little 90-minute mainstream comedy, but it’s also a Trojan Horse for the existential musings of a serious art film. This will be one of those rare movies that I can recommend to almost anyone.
It’s the story of two people, played by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, who meet at a wedding, only to get caught in a Groundhog’s Day-style time loop, repeating the same day over and over again.
Sounds simple, right? It would be easy to dismiss Palm Springs as just another Groundhog’s Day clone, but it’s much more than that. In fact, it’s worth noting that this high concept idea has a pretty successful track record. Groundhog’s Day is a classic, and the Blumhouse horror movies, Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U are both fun takes on the concept. Palm Springs knows it can’t just do what those movies all did again, so it monkeys around with the focus to bring new life to the idea. But I can’t say too much without giving some fun twists away.
The movie manages to balance several different tones and emotions with aplomb. Most importantly for a comedy, it’s funny. It has an often-sarcastic tone that works well with the material and there are a lot of balls in the air to draw humour from. But it’s also at turns sweet and touching. It’s sad and ponderous. It has something to say about people and love and as I alluded to, existence itself.
In fact, that’s one of the smartest places, where the movie reaches another level. It thinks about time in a way Groundhog’s Day doesn’t really. I recently read some differing takes on how long Bill Murray is stuck in the loop in Groundhog’s Day. Upon the first few viewings, you don’t really get a sense that it’s much more than a couple of weeks. But if you look closely, it’s more than just memorizing the Jeopardy answers that day; in one scene Murray learns how to do ice sculptures, something that could take Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to perfect. Apparently, Harold Ramis once said that the original intention was to have him trapped for 10,000 years, but that it was probably more like 10 years in the film. Another movie website did some calculations and taking into account learning French and ice sculpting and piano, it was probably just under 34 years. Either way, it’s fun to think about (if you’re a weird nerd like me, I suppose).
Palm Springs is more interested in the ramifications of ideas like this than Groundhog’s Day was. How do you process being trapped in the loop over time? How does it change you as a person? How far away can you drive before your day resets? How much hedonistic excess do you drown in? How dark does that hedonism get? Do you commit murders because it doesn’t matter anymore? How do you come out of that again?
Sorry if I get lost in the minutae of this sci-fi conceptual nonsense, but it’s fascinating to me, and Palm Springs treats it as great fodder for both character and comedy.
The movie not only thinks about time and eternity in new terms, but it also explores the trauma of existence, time loop or not. Do our lives matter any more than those in the time loop? Are we really alone in life? Even if we’re surrounded by loved ones? And how do we change over time — how do you change over time if no one around you ever changes?
Yet, with all this intellectual meandering, the movie never becomes heavy. The worse you can accuse it of is being a little sitcomy here and there. Samberg is at his best, as the world-weary soul that hasn’t had the spark truly driven from him yet, but wants to think that he has. Milioti is charming as well; she’s as convincing with sweetness and wide-eyed surprise as she is with being grounded and damaged. JK Simmons also has a small but vital part.
So here I am, wondering why a stupid Andy Samberg comedy is still rolling around in my head a day after watching it. If more mainstream films were like this, multiplex fare wouldn’t be accused of being dumbed down drivel for the masses. If more art film was like this, they wouldn’t be called pretentious, boring intellectual exercises for navel-gazing elitists. Palm Springs is like a pop song you’re not embarrassed to blast at a party, because it actually has a great hook and some skilled musicianship.
More like this, please.