Palm Springs (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Stuck together in a time loop

“Palm Springs” is a smart and funny comedy film which deftly handles a story promise which has been quite familiar to us since “Groundhog Day” (1993). Mainly driven by the good comic chemistry between its two appealing lead performers, the movie delivers a fair share of laughs for us via a series of clever and witty moments to be savored, and it also generates some poignancy as its two main characters try to deal with their unbelievable situation.

At the beginning, we see a wedding day via the viewpoint of Nyles (Andy Samberg), who came to a hotel located somewhere in a remote desert region along with many other wedding guests including his girlfriend. While his girlfriend is mostly occupied with how she will look good as one of the bridesmaids, Nyles is not particularly interested in the wedding to be held in the afternoon, and we see him going through the morning alone without much care or enthusiasm while drinking booze from time to time.

However, during the evening party following the wedding ceremony, Nyles delivers a rather touching speech in front of many others including the bride and the groom, and then he finds himself spending some time with Sarah (Cristin Milioti), who is the bride’s sister. As they talk with each other, something seems to click between them, and, not so surprisingly, they later go outside together for having a little private time together.

As they talk more with each other at a nearby spot in the desert, both Nyles and Sarah seem to be willing get closer to each other, but then something unexpected happens. Nyles is suddenly attacked by somebody else appearing out of nowhere, and then, despite being seriously injured, he struggles to flee into a cave not so far from the spot, and Sarah happens to follow him into the cave although Nyles desperately tries to stop her.

Sarah soon comes to realize the reason why she should not enter the cave. When she wakes up shortly after entering the cave and then experiencing something quite strange, she finds herself in the early morning of the wedding day again, and it does not take much time for her to realize that she is now trapped in a time loop along with Nyles, who has already gone through this day countless times since he entered that cave for the first time.

The screenplay by Andy Siara quickly sets the rules of Sarah and Nyles’ situation as Nyles explains to Sarah on how things have been hopeless to him with no end in sight. Like the hero played by Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”, he tried one thing after another, but it looks like nothing will be changed no matter what he does, so he has simply given up while trying to have fun and pleasure as much as he can, though there is a recurring problem involved with that dude who attacked him.

Of course, Sarah believes that there may be a way out for both of them, and the movie accordingly delivers a series of humorous moments. At one point, she tries to be awake for more than 24 hours as going far away from the hotel as much as she can, but, what do you know, she soon gets asleep and then finds herself beginning the same day again.

Eventually accepting the inexorable condition of time and space surrounding her, Sarah comes to take a course which is probably not so different from the one taken by Nyles during his initial repetitions in the time loop. Along with Nyles, she decides to go wild from time to time, and Nyles is certainly cheered up by having someone else besides him.

As going through the same day again and again, Nyles and Sarah naturally become more serious about their developing relationship, but then they also come to face each own personal issue to deal with. While finding himself quite more accustomed to the time loop more than he admits, Nyles becomes conflicted more about a certain hidden fact between him and Sarah, and Sarah comes to reflect more on how messy her life has been, especially when she begins another same day on somebody’s bed as before.

During its third act, the movie resolves the ongoing conflict between its two main characters too easily, but director Max Barbakow keeps maintaining its comic momentum, and his two lead performers ably carry the film together with their effortless comic timing. Andy Samberg, who also participated in the production of the film, and Cristin Millioti skillfully handle their numerous humorous moments in the film, and their characters come to us as flawed but likable human characters thanks to their engaging performances. In case of several other notable performers around them, J.K. Simmons and Dale Dickey are dependable as before, and I also enjoyed the brief appearance of June Squibb, whose minor supporting character may know more than she seems on the surface.

Like several recent films including “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014), “Palm Springs” is an enjoyable variation of “Groundhog Day”, and you will laugh a lot while also coming to muse a bit on how to live day by day. Yes, life feels quite long to many of us whenever we seem to be going through same day again and again, but there will be when time is over for us in the end, and that is why we keep trying to make some difference everyday, isn’t it?

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