With visions of 1993's Groundhog Day or the more recent (and astoundingly good) Netflix series Russian Doll still dancing in our heads, Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island crew still manage to churn out an original take on the concept of samsara-lite, the Buddhist doctrine of endless cycles, with Palm Springs.
Samberg is Nyles, a shiftless type whose boyfriend duties brought him to a wedding in Palm Springs a very long time ago, and where he's been stuck in a time loop for some unknowable number of years. It's quite possibly millennia—it's hard to know when one's trapped in a single day forever—and whether he falls asleep or even dies, Nyles resets on the morning of the wedding. Forever.
There, with the ever-present reminder that nothing he does will matter come sunrise, Nyles has embraced a sort of nihilism with the passing of countless days. It's almost like we've hit him at the acceptance stage of the grief cycle when the maid of honor (Cristin Milioti) ends up in the loop with him and he finds something actually worth living for. Elsewhere, another wedding guest (JK Simmons), whom Nyles haplessly brought into the loop, seeks revenge as violently and often as possible.
Fun is had, lessons are learned and Samberg and Milioti get cute together, first embracing a hedonistic sense of experimentation before descending into the stark realization that if nothing can possibly change, what's the point of anything? Tomes have been written on the subject, and many a thinker has considered the weight of such a conundrum. But whereas Bill Murray escaped Punxsutawney through the power of love and Russian Doll's Natasha Lyonne did…something in the end, it's hard to say, Samberg's Nyles ultimately finds bravery through something less romantic, but a lot more grounded.
No spoilers here, and it's definitely odd to identify a plot point as grounded in a film about a time loop, but the fun of Palm Springs is in its balancing act between comedy and small scale tragedy. NBC's The Good Place most recently came to an end with a satisfying conclusion about knowing ourselves and when to let go (don't even get me started on its brilliant and digestible take on social contracts throughout its four seasons), and in its similar crack at explaining the unending showed us both the bittersweet realities of that which is temporary while re-contextualizing and reinforcing a truth that is also front and center in Palm Springs—we need other each other.
+Fun and funny; full of heart; Samberg and Milioti
-Tries to explain things that don't matter; not enough Simmons
Directed by Max Barbakow
With Samberg, Milioti and Simmons
Hulu, R, 90 min.