Day Break (2006). Source Code (2011). Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Happy Death Day (2017). 3 Feet Ball & Souls (2017). Happy Death Day 2 U (2019). The Incredible Shrinking Wknd (2019). Russian Doll (2019).
These releases took the perpetually-repeating day premise of Groundhog Day and applied it to a variety of genres — crime, sci-fi, horror, etc.
For each of these films/TV shows, there are three more that travel the same thematic territory. Time loop films have become a bona fide subgenre. Some of them try to explain why such a strange phenomenon has befallen the lead character, and others ask the audience to simply accept the premise and go with it.
Palm Springs, the new romantic comedy currently available on Hulu, falls into the second option, “just go with it.” As the film opens, Nyles (played by Andy Samberg) finds himself repeating the same day over and over. Nyles attends the wedding, parties at the reception, falls asleep and wakes up … on the morning of the wedding.
He knows every toast before it’s given. He threads his way through the dance floor, dodging each gyrating wedding guest with expert precision because he’s “busted” that move dozens, if not hundreds, of times before.
Nyles amuses himself by wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt to the wedding and giving ludicrous, grandiose toasts. It doesn’t matter if he makes a spectacle of himself because the day doesn’t really count. He gets a “do-over” as soon as he goes to sleep.
Life has become one big mulligan. He tries to flee town. He flies to another city. By morning, all roads lead back to the same destination: his hotel room on the day of the wedding.
It’s no coincidence that Palm Springs takes place in, and around, a wedding. The film is an examination of romance, monogamy, and marriage. Repeating the same day over and over sounds boring, but Nyles has discovered that it’s also incredibly lonely. Any relationship Nyles forms in the course of a day is erased by morning.
Nyles may be surrounded by people, but he will never get to know them for longer than 24 hours. He drinks and parties and hooks up with a variety of women at the wedding, but when he awakens each morning, he’s alone. His life is meaningless because he has no one to share it with.
Thankfully, for the audience and for Nyles, Andy Samberg gets to share the screen with Cristin Milioti who plays Sarah, the sister of the bride.
Samberg can be a huge screen presence. Sometimes he’s too big and dominates his co-stars. In Palm Springs, he and Milioti have amazing chemistry and share the screen effortlessly. Samberg is more restrained than usual, toning down his performance allows Milioti to shine.
The actress has appeared in numerous television shows (most notably as The Girl with the Yellow Umbrella in the final seasons of How I Met Your Mother), but Palm Springs deserves to be her breakout role in film.
Palm Springs debuted to acclaim at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January. It deserved a nice long run on the festival circuit and big indie box office this fall. The coronavirus had other plans. The film’s financial loss is the home video audience’s gain. Palm Springs is currently streaming on Hulu.