Review: Clever 'Palm Springs' puts fresh spin on 'Groundhog Day' formula
Courtesy of HULU
If it already wasn’t, “Groundhog Day” has officially become a sub genre unto itself: the concept of living the same day over and over until fate or the universe decides to end it has been modified and rehashed in Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s wickedly fun “Edge of Tomorrow;” the horror comedy “Happy Death Day;” and the angsty teenage drama “Before I Fall.”
But in Max Barbakow’s unique “Palm Springs,” the formula gets a new face lift that makes you wonder how nobody envisioned it before. Considering we’ve all been stuck on a loop whilst in quarantine, “Palm Springs” landing on Hulu feels like an ironic metaphor, but the comedy - produced by The Lonely Island crew - has a basic structure that tries to capture the spirit and essences of living the same day over and over again. Except, in this case, it isn’t a singular individual trying to navigate their own purgatory, it shows two - count em’ two! - poor souls stuck in a twisty time travel paradox. And thankfully, the picture doesn’t detour too heavily into rom-com territory by having a couple stuck in the same cycle.
This consistently amicable and endearing comedy puts forth two winning leads to help keep the laughs flowing. When we first meet Nyles (Andy Samberg - naturally made for the role of carefree slacker) we already get the sense this dude has been here before. He’s gearing up for the wedding of Abe (Tyler Hoechlin) and Tala (Camila Mendes) by chugging a few beers, lounging poolside on an inflatable pizza float, and giving zero fucks. Later, he stumbles around the reception, drunk as a sailor, and gives a rambling speech that catches the attention of Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the sister of the bride. The two hit it off immediately and are on the brink of hooking up before a brooding figure in a dark camouflage getup (JK Simmons) shoots Nyles with an arrow. (Talk about a mood killer). After Sarah decides to follow the duo into a nearby cave with glowing red aurora, she inadvertently gets herself stuck in the same time loop Nyles has been living in for decades.
Like our daily lives in quarantine, the two begin waking up on the same day - in this instance November 9th - with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and contemplating the odds of ever getting out. While I’m sure Barbakow and writer Andy Siara wanted to put forth a social commentary on the constraints of relationships and how they grow and manifest, it’s hard not to watch “Palm Springs” and think this movie wasn’t made for the moment we’re currently living.
Still. “Palm Springs” doesn’t forget to embrace that, even when the world is ending around you, you need to maintain a sense of humor. And though Samberg is generally known for his sly comedic chops and zany antics ala “Popstar” or “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” he’s instincts are evenly matched by Milioti’s wisdom and fury. The two are a great pair to go on this journey with, and there are numerous occasions where they’re allowed to riff and have fun with the material. Other supporting roles played by Peter Gallagher (the father of the bride) and Dale Dickey certainly garner a laugh or two, but the real hoot of the picture belongs to Simmons, because once we find out his purpose in the film, the Oscar winner is given ample time to dabble in the absurdity and sadness of the situation.
Sure, “Palm Springs” isn’t entirely original, but it’s hard to resist the tweaks and changes to the “Groundhog Day” style, because, while it will never be as good as the original, when the screenwriters take the time to fully flesh out these narrative ploys, it proves that something decent can rise from the ashes, and that repetition can be a good thing.
PALM SPRINGS debuts on HULU Friday July 10th.