Movie review: Palm Springs

Groundhog Day meets the rom-com, with winning results.

Palm Springs starts in medias Groundhog Day, as it were. When our hero, Nyles (Andy Samberg), reluctantly lifts his head from the pillow, it becomes clear he’s been living the same day over and over again—the day of his girlfriend’s best friend’s wedding—and he’s already reached a point of weary acceptance. Sometimes he has diffident sex with his girlfriend (even though he knows she’s cheating on him), sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he sleeps with other people—he’s up for anyone: a weathered bar hound, a guest at the wedding, a dude. Sometimes he disrupts the wedding with drunken antics, sometimes he doesn’t show, sometimes he makes a profound toast that moves the attendants to tears. It’s all the same to him—no consequences, no death, no progress.

The ever-lovable Samberg is giving us the full Bill Murray here—he dresses in floppy board shorts and a loud Hawaiian shirt, even at the formal wedding. He’s amused by the absurd pointlessness of life. Ironic detachment is his art.

And then something different happens. He starts talking to Sarah (Christine Milioti), the sister of the bride and an outcast in her own right (her family judges her for sleeping around and drinking too much), and they go off to the beach to hook up. Out of nowhere, they’re attacked by a masked man with a bow and arrow. Nyles gets hit, runs toward a mysterious cave, and Sarah follows him, despite his protestations. Next thing you know, it’s Sarah’s head on the pillow we’re seeing, and she’s reliving the wedding day, too. She immediately discerns that Nyles has something to do with her predicament. She screams at him.

He casually explains that it’s one of those disruptions in the space-time-continuum things. He’s very matter-of-fact. (I was actually half-surprised he didn’t specifically name check Groundhog Day to flesh out his explanation.) She goes through the stages of grief: She gets depressed. She tries to kill herself, even though Nyles tells her that’s pointless. (They don’t die; they do, however experience pain.) She comes up with a theory: that this eternity of sameness is punishment for previous bad deeds and all they need to do is behave selflessly to reset the karmic clock. She tries it, it doesn’t work. She cries. She screams. Nyles shrugs.

But then she reaches the acceptance point and it actually becomes . . . fun. Nyles suddenly has a partner in his apathy and it makes him a little less apathetic. He shows Sarah the fancy house with a pool he’s been squatting at. He takes her to his favorite bar where they both get very good at darts. They steal a plane, they trip on mushrooms, they finally have sex.

Oh, as for Roy (J.K. Simmons), the guy with the arrows? Nyles admits that, after a night of male bonding, bourbon, and deep thoughts, Nyles led him through the cave of no return, and now Roy is stuck in the loop. He wants to kill Nyles for revenge. A hunter who can never kill his prey. Shrug.

As my sister, Felicia, pointed out, Palm Springs is the perfect coronavirus movie. It’s about a world where all the days blur together, where every day is literally the same as the last.

But it’s also about how love is quite possibly the one thing that makes life, in all its existential pointlessness, worth living. And how, maybe, it’s more important to take a chance on life and love than wallow in a kind of comforting nihilism.

I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will say that Samberg and Milioti are delightful together. Her high-strung, Bambi-eyed energy and his dudebro chill mesh perfectly. I’d spend an eternity with these two anytime.

Palm Springs is now streaming on Hulu