So, this is going to be a review about our current moment, or more specifically, the current moment of my peers and I. I know, I know, everyone and their mothers has written about Palm Springs & quarantine but, I want to talk about other things.
So Palm Springs covers what is fast emerging as a genre in its own right. That being The Groundhog Day rip off, (not to be taken as an inherently derogatory term). A few years ago the case of Edge of Tomorrow… and now we have Palm Springs. Once would be an isolated incident but here we have Palm Springs, a film that is innovating on the format and bringing us new ways to tell this kind of story. I’d say that makes it a genre.
Defining the main character in Palm Springs isn’t necessarily easy. Our point of view character shifts between two deuteragonists depending on the storytelling needs of the script, (which in all honesty is done with an incredible smoothness). We have Andy Samberg’s Nyles, a morbidly depressed man with a girlfriend who cheats on him, who always seems to instinctively know the perfect move. We have Cristin Milioti’s Sarah, an alcoholic, chronic fuck up who can never seem to be happy with her hyper peppy but ultimately shallow family. Here’s the catch, it turns out that the reason Sarah sees Nyles as being so cool, aloof, and aware is that Nyles is stuck in a Groundhog Day style time loop! What a shock! But now she knows, she’s in the time loop also! What a twist! What ensues is a zany romantic comedy that fits our contemporary zeitgeist like a glove.
What it opens up though, are interesting, radical new temporal possibilities for this genre. Whereas before, the understood logic of the scenario was that there is a period of time that is repeating like a broken record, what we see now is someone repeating a day, then get someone else stuck in the day, after multiple repeats of the day, multiple times. So, here’s my thoughts. Does this mean that each day for Samberg is a new parallel Universe he gets dropped in? The fact that someone on a new day can get trapped in the same day infers that the other previous versions of themselves carried on in their own timelines, in which case did those timelines just continue without Samberg in them? Was there a missing persons investigation? Did anyone in the future timelines uncover the only real possibility? That after a night of drug fuelled madness with JK Simmons they both killed themselves in a suicide pact? I wonder how JK’s family felt knowing this? Either way, what it gives us is a vastly new set of rules, widgets, and theoretical nooks and crannies to play in with this genre which we have now found ourselves in. To me at least, that is profoundly exciting.
So that’s all there, and it’s lovely, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other beautiful things to attract you. Samberg & Milioti have fucking electric chemistry and really get the measure of the laid back riffage of the material in a way that I would have expected from Samberg but provides a unique and breakout role for Milioti, and I’ll tell you why.
A lot of people have drawn the parallel to this movie and quarantine, about how we’re all stuck around doing nothing, (god imagine actually being able to relax, physically or emotionally, under quarantine), however I think there are deeper things. Our current moment is a dyspeptic one. In a world where people on the street for months on end are demanding that their humanity be recognised without it being, in a world where we know the world is on the brink of climate oblivion and our authorities are doing nothing, in a world where all this is happening and war mongering suicide cult of a political ideology in the form of the alt right is on the rise, an ideology that, if given power would fix none of these problems, it is so easy to fall into despair, to become the kind of solipsistic arsehole that Nyles has become. The world in so many ways feels like a time loop when you’re trying to make a difference. Then there’s me, and my personal life. I do consider myself someone trying to make a difference, but then there’s the fact that for a long time now I’ve been fighting for air above water, trying to recover from some pretty shitty things that happened in my youth, and roadblocks just seem to keep coming out of nowhere with no explanation. All this together… well suffice to say I describe my life as, “wake up, put in a tonne of effort, go to bed, repeat”, a lot. Our current cultural moment is defined by monotony, and this film embodies that.
Milioti’s Sarah understands my feelings more than anyone I’ve met in real life I think, including the fact that when she’s trapped in the time loop, yes, she lets it get on top of her for a bit and falls into apathy, but never really stops fighting to improve things and improve her life. Throughout it all, she is a fighter, and I try, I try so hard, to fight. Ultimately, in this film, it is a film that understands the joy of frivolity, of just riding through life and it finds joy in that, but it also understands that what it means to grow up is not to sit back and accept that your current situation is how it is and it’s never going to change. Growing up is imagining a better world and fighting for it.
The film actually cites some pretty hardcore philosophy, largely uncited, (how unacademic). What, am I expected to believe that Nyles just invented The Myth of Sisyphus all on his own? What this pretty literal quoting of existential philosophers tells you is that this is the central debate that the film cares about. If your existence is meaningless in the cosmic sense, what do you do with it? I think the film gives you a pretty Gen-Z answer, in a way I liked. This is all to say that role Milioti has is unique and breakout because it’s this kind of intelligent, contemporary, yet utterly detached and silly material that Samberg grapples with on a daily basis but with an added dash of contemporary solipsism that could really catch the zeitgeist and has up until now only been the purview of Gen-Z indie rioters like Assassination Nation.
Now of course there are problems. It falls far too often into the brand of American comedy that I hate, of making a good joke and then explaining the punchline as if that’s funnier. It makes me want to throw you out of the party that we’re both at in this very sudden metaphor. Also, for a film as interesting as it is, it falls into really generic rom-com beats all too often. It feels like a letdown. That being said, if you are after a movie that will just charm your fucking socks off? This is the movie you should be checking out from 2020.