Somewhere between the comically somber Groundhog Day and an outlandishly absurd Andy Samberg vehicle (Hot Rod, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) sits Palm Springs, a time-loop movie that benefits from the chemistry (romantic and comic) between Samberg and costar Cristin Milioti.
He plays Nyles, a lackadaisical boyfriend-to-a-bridesmaid at a desert destination wedding. At first we think his casual disinterest—he keeps cracking open beers while floating in the pool, even as everyone busily scurries around him—is just a personality quirk, but then the movie reveals its premise: Nyles has been stuck in this very day for years, repeating it over and over every time he wakes up.
Milioti plays Sarah, the sister of the bride, and if Samberg brings a playful vibe of acceptance to the predicament—expertly weaving his way through the wedding’s dance floor because he knows every movie each person is going to make—Milioti brings a necessary sense of friction. When Sarah gets pulled into the messed-up metaphysics, she challenges Nyles’ assumption that “your best bet is to learn how to suffer existence.”
As they navigate this alternate reality, they make an expert comic team—especially when they turn a local biker bar into their own party room, knowing that performing an elaborate dance routine for the grizzled boozers will have no real long-term implications for the two of them. Eventually that fun wears thin, however, and Sarah realizes that meaningful relationship may be the way to move forward.
Palm Springs is written by Andy Siara and directed by Max Barbakow, and while Barbakow has a nice eye for composition in those pool scenes—watching Nyles and Sarah float their days away from overhead is like a sunnier spin on Dustin Hoffman’s dismal dips in The Graduate—the movie also suffers from what I’ve come to think of as the “streaming sheen.” There’s a certain, fakey shine to some of the offerings on services like Hulu and Netflix that makes them seem as if they’re encased in plastic. Palm Springs is fun, but long live the theatrical experience.