As our COVID-riddled state rolls back openings and braces for whatever the months ahead hold, these past few weeks of “Summer: Live from Wisconsin Quarantine!” have started to feel like they’re simply repeating the same events every single day. Over and over — and over again.
Hulu’s “Palm Springs” takes that notion literally — and somehow makes us want to stick around.
In the largest Sundance Film Festival sale ever made, “Palm Springs” tells the story of family black sheep Sarah, an unlucky maid of honor who awakens on the morning of November 9 — the day of her sister’s wedding — and prepares for whatever the fateful day entails. Played to the absolute piping brim of her “I’m a disappointment” glory by “How I Met Your Mother” titular actress Cristin Milioti, Sarah quickly draws the attention of wedding guest — and surprising toast giver — Nyles, portrayed by “Lonely Island” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Andy Samberg, becoming smitten with his seemingly uncanny ability to predict everything exactly the way it will happen — before it even happens.
The meet-cute between both parties ensues, the preparations for a night of romance abound — before suddenly, all hell suddenly breaks loose. Nyles is struck by an arrow from a homicidal maniac, Sarah follows him towards a glowing cave, and before we know it, she wakes up in the same bed on November 9, all over again.
Unbeknownst to Sarah, Nyles has led her into a time loop, one in which he’s been stuck for so long he stopped counting the days, and provides her the “rules” for how the new world operates. From a series of lackluster suicide attempts to a bucket list of crazy activities, the pair is forced to navigate whatever can be found in this new world for only the both of them, quickly recognizing there’s no escaping their inevitable reset — or budding romance — along the way.
The beauty of “Palm Springs” doesn’t lie in the formula — a pattern we’ve seen perfectly patented through the 1993 classic “Groundhog Day” and more recently updated in films like Blumhouse’s “Happy Death Day” and television series like Netflix’s “Russian Doll”.
Nyles isn’t trying to convince other people that he’s trapped like Phil Conners (Bill Murray) does, and there’s no redeeming quality that has to be found inside either character before they can escape. Rather, it’s the unique blend of the formula we see here — part and parcel existential comedy about the nothingness of repeating the same day and padding provided through “will they or won’t they” romantic comedy tropes — that works perfectly to let both characters recognize what they’ve found in each other, saving the movie and preventing it from being a bad version of both. It causes viewers to ponder whether or not we would be content repeating the same day if it meant we got to spend it with someone we came to love, and once the twist comes — you’ll be shocked to discover why Sarah feels the need to escape the cycle for good.
While the twists and turns of the narrative keep the engine moving, the performances on both sides make the on-screen romance far better than one could’ve ever hoped. Samberg — adopting more of a frat boy persona over his typical parody schtick — brings a perfect level of hysterical hopelessness into the time loop situation, dialing up his chops for the moments of insanity and tapping into some more serious emotions once he recognizes the feelings he’s developed for Sarah.
Had I not watched “Lonely Island” videos thousands of times in middle school — much to the disappointment of my teachers and peers — I would’ve never guessed he had the ability to change directions. Not to mention his chemistry with Milioti — who brings her own manic energy to the screen — and Samberg’s performance propels the storyline far beyond anything a lower-tier comedian might have provided towards the role. I’m excited to see him continue to tackle more projects like this as “Nine Nine” seemingly comes to a conclusion within the next few years and he hopefully lines himself up for the potential of a late-career Adam Sandler route for adult romantic comedies — or just a few more “Lonely Island” videos, I would be fine with that.
Many of the supporting performances, from television legends like Peter Gallagher and teen stars like Camila Mendes, warrant some attention in “Springs.” They make or break a high-concept oftentimes, and while the starring pair does a great job keeping fans involved — no one provides a fastball quite like Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons in roughly 8-10 minutes of screen time. Coming down from the clouds, and the occasional Travelers Insurance commercial, to play a wedding guest named Roy who develops a strange — obsession, we’ll call it — with Nyles, Simmons adds yet another eccentric character to his lengthy resume as a supporting comedy player. He perfectly flips the switch between smarmy and sarcastic during the wedding scenes and genuinely warm hearted with his suburban family towards the end of the film, and it consistently blows my mind how frequently he finds new ways to deliver. Any role he takes could fall anywhere between Tom Hanks and a creepier version of Bryan Cranston — making his performance in “Springs” one of the most surprising and enjoyable parts of the entire movie.
All in all, “Palm Springs” needs to be watched with as few spoilers — and as open of a mind — as humanly possible — letting you sink your teeth into the concept and really imagining how you would really feel living the same day over and over again. Don’t look up spoilers, don’t deep dive quantum physics on YouTube and suspend disbelief for just a few — or 90 — moments and you might just find your new favorite comedy movie of the summer — and rest of the year.
You can find “Palm Springs” streaming on Hulu right now.