Review: ‘Palm Springs,’ starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and J.K. Simmons

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“Palm Springs”

Directed by Max Barbakow

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Palm Springs, California, and briefly in other parts of the U.S., the comedy film “Palm Springs” has a predominantly white cast (with a few black people, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single man and a single woman find themselves in a repetitive time loop where they keep waking up to the wedding day of the woman’s younger sister in Palm Springs, California.

Culture Audience: “Palm Springs” will appeal to primarily people who like offbeat “time warp” comedies, but much of the vulgar humor lacks wit or originality.

Meredith Hagner and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

A blatant and vastly inferior ripoff of the 1993 Bill Murray classic comedy “Groundhog Day,” the time-loop comedy film “Palm Springs” might be interesting to fans of star Andy Samberg, but everyone else will feel like they’re stuck watching a repetitive time-loop skit get less funny as time goes on. A sardonic supporting performance by the always-great J.K. Simmons isn’t enough to save this smug film, which isn’t as clever as the filmmakers like to think it is.

People who follow news in the entertainment industry might be aware that the Hulu comedy film “Palm Springs” broke a Sundance Film Festival record for the highest amount paid ($17.5 million and 69 cents) to acquire a film that premiered at Sundance. The previous record holder was Fox Searchlight’s $17.5 million purchase of the 2016 drama “Birth of a Nation,” actor Nate Parker’s feature-film directorial debut.

The record-breaking sum that Hulu paid for “Palm Springs” would lead people to believe that this movie, which clearly won’t be an Oscar contender, is at least on par with a crowd-pleasing classic, such as director Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” a movie about a weatherman who’s stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop. Unfortunately, “Palm Springs” (directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara) doesn’t come close to the charm and memorable humor of “Groundhog Day.”

It’s pretty obvious that the overrated “Palm Springs” was sold for an overpriced amount because movie executives got caught up in a bidding war for a mediocre film. When has Samberg ever starred in a quality movie that was a big hit with audiences? Never. “Palm Springs” certainly won’t be his first “blockbuster” hit.

In “Palm Springs,” Sandberg plays an obnoxious ne’er do well named Nyles, who is stuck in a time loop where he keeps waking up to November 9, the day of a wedding that he is supposed to attend with his girlfriend Misty (played by Meredith Hagner), a stereotypical ditsy blonde who is one of the bridesmaids. Viewers won’t find out about this time loop until after the first time that the movie shows Nyles at the wedding.

The wedding is taking place in the upscale desert vacation city of Palm Springs, California. The bride is Tala (played by Camila Mendes), the groom is Abe (played by Tyler Hoechlin) and the maid of honor is Tala’s divorced older sister Sarah (played by Cristin Milioti), who looks and acts like she’d rather be anywhere else but the wedding. The proud parents of the bride are Howard (played by Peter Gallagher) and Pia (played by Jacqueline Obradors), who don’t do much except look horrified at some of the silly antics that later ensue in the story. And then there’s Nana Schlieffen (played by June Squibb), the token matronly grandmother at the wedding.

Nyles, Misty and Sarah are all staying at the same hotel. When Nyles wakes up in the hotel on the day of the wedding, Misty has just come out of the shower and is putting lotion on her legs. Nyles wants to have sex, and Misty agrees, but only if they make it quick because she says she doesn’t want to get too sweaty. A predictable erection joke is part of this scene, which sets the tone for the rest of this movie. “Palm Springs” makes a lot of crude jokes about sex, but most of the jokes aren’t very funny.

At the wedding, Nyles stands out (and not in a good way) because he’s wearing clothes that are too casual: a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. At the reception, Misty makes an awkward wedding speech, and then it’s Sarah turn to give her speech. Even though she’s the maid of honor, a miserable-looking Sarah seems shocked that she’s expected to make a toast to the bride and groom.

But before she gets a chance to make the speech, Nyles butts in and makes a speech that’s even more cringeworthy than Misty’s speech. What Nyles has to say is both overly sappy and nonsensical. He ends it by stating to the newly married couple: “We may be born lost, but now you are found.”

After that, Nyles (who is constantly chugging beer from beer cans) and Sarah strike up a conversation. Nyles flirts heavily with Sarah and asks her if she wants to go somewhere private with him for a quickie tryst. Sarah tells him that he’s being very forward, but she’s intrigued by his boldness.

While Nyles and Sarah are outside, they pass by a bathroom where the reception is being held. The bathroom is on the ground level, and they can clearly see into the bathroom’s window (this place clearly doesn’t care about guests’ privacy), where they witness Misty cheating with a wedding guest named Trevor (played by Chris Pang). Trevor, who’s dressed in a glittery cowboy suit at the wedding, is one of those quirky characters that was written in this movie in its failed attempt to be like a Wes Anderson comedy.

Now that Sarah knows that Nyles’ girlfriend/wedding date doesn’t really care about him, Sarah takes Nyles up on his offer to hook up with him out in the desert. Before that happens, Sarah tells Nyles that she’s the “black sheep” of her family, because her family thinks she’s a “liability” who thinks “I fuck around and drink too much.”

While Sarah and Nyles are having a steamy makeout session, Nyles suddenly gets wounded on his shoulder by an arrow. Out of the shadows, a man wearing dark camouflage paint on his face starts to chase Nyles with a bow and arrow, while Sarah freaks out and is confused at what’s going on. It turns out that the angry bow-and-arrow hunter is named Roy (played by J.K. Simmons), and Roy wants revenge on Nyles for a reason that’s revealed later in the story.

Meanwhile, during this chase scene, Nyles runs into a cave where there’s a strange glowing red light. Sarah follows Nyles into the cave. And it turns out this mysterious cave is the portal that causes a time-loop that keeps going back to November 9. Now that Sarah has gone into the cave, she’s stuck in the time loop with Nyles too. Just like Nyles, every time Sarah now wakes up, it’s in the Palm Springs hotel on the November 9 wedding day.

“Palm Springs” has a lot of slapstick humor to distract from the uninspired dialogue in the movie. After Sarah finds out that she’s stuck in the same time loop as Nyles, much of the film is about Sarah being angry with Nyles because she feels that she didn’t deserve to be unknowingly trapped in the loop.

Nyles has been in the loop long enough to warn Sarah that attempts to get out of the loop have failed. Committing suicide doesn’t work. (Although an idea presented later in the story contradicts that theory.) It also doesn’t work to take stimulant drugs that keep people up for days. Traveling to another city (which Sarah does when she drives all the way back to her messy house in Austin, Texas) also doesn’t get them out of loop either.

The movie never explains what Nyles did for a living before he got caught in the time loop, but he’s reached a point of feeling resigned about his fate in the loop. Therefore, he acts as recklessly and obnoxiously as possible (including breaking several laws), because he knows that when he wakes up, he’ll be back in that Palm Springs hotel room on the November 9 wedding day.

Nyles also tells Sarah that being stuck in the time loop has caused him to feel free to have sexual hookups with as many people as possible, including three people who keep showing up in this story: a bartender named Daisy (played by Jena Friedman), who works at the wedding reception; Darla (played by Dale Dickey) a crusty regular at a local bar; and fashionable Jerry (played by Tongayi Chirisa), one of the wedding guests.

At first, Sarah gets caught up in being as “bad” as possible, so a great deal of the movie shows Sarah and Nyles acting like drunken, irresponsible teenagers. But Sarah soon grows tired of these shenanigans and wants to get out of the loop and back to her normal life. It goes without saying that Sarah and Nyles start to have romantic feelings for each other, so Nyles is conflicted about Sarah wanting to leave the loop while he might remain stuck there.

Unfortunately for “Palm Springs,” the chemistry between Samberg and Milioti isn’t very believable when Nyles and Sarah start to become a romantic couple. Milioti seems to be doing her best to bring some laughs to the story, but Sarah is such a deeply unhappy, self-loathing person that it’s hard to believe that Sarah can fall in love when she doesn’t even love herself.

Parts of “Palm Springs” seem like a more adult-language version of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that’s worn out its welcome. Samberg, who’s a “Saturday Night Live” alum, has the same type of one-note “man child” persona that he had on the show. It’s the same persona that Pete Davidson has also taken as part of his comedic image.

A comedy with this “time loop” concept should be fun to watch, but “Palm Springs” is a chore to watch because the two main characters don’t have charismatic personalities. Huge stretches of “Palm Springs” drag on for too long. And even the movie’s visual effects look cheap and clunky.

The best thing about “Palm Springs” is how the “travelogue” type of cinematography (from Quyen Tran) makes a vacation in Palm Springs look very enticing. But people can watch attractive travel videos for free on the Internet, and this movie isn’t supposed to be a travel video.

People aren’t going to sign up for Hulu en masse to watch this movie, so “Palm Springs” certainly wasn’t worth the $17.5 million price tag. “Palm Springs” is not only a waste of Hulu’s money but it’s also a waste of viewers’ time, unless people have a high tolerance for Samberg’s recycled “man child” persona.

Hulu premiered “Palm Springs” on July 10, 2020