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Review | 'Palm Springs' is refreshing for its irreverence and brightness

‘Palm Springs’ is out in cinemas now.

September 24, 2021 / 04:52 PM IST
Director Max Barbakow's 'Palm Springs' is a delightful romcom based on a screenplay by Andy Siara.

Director Max Barbakow's 'Palm Springs' is a delightful romcom based on a screenplay by Andy Siara.

Groundhog Day will forever be the first film that you think of when you hear the phrase ‘time loop’. Billy Murray starred as the weatherman whose life is on repeat in the 1993 comic romance. In 2020, Max Barbakow directs Palm Springs, a delightful romcom based on a screenplay by Andy Siara.

Nyles (Andy Samberg) wakes up on November 9. He is accompanying his girlfriend Misty to her friend Tala’s wedding to Abe in Palm Springs. At the reception, Nyles meets Tala’s older sister and maid of honour Sarah (Cristin Milioti). But a chance hook up in the Californian desert turns out to be far more complicated. A vortex and a time loop connect Nyles and Sarah who find themselves reliving November 9 and coming to terms with the endless pointlessness of life and attachments.

Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and Nyles (Andy Samberg) are stuck in an endless time loop in Palm Springs, waking up on November 9 over and over again. Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and Nyles (Andy Samberg) in 'Palm Springs'.

The idea of repeating days and an endless loop has often been explored, such as in Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Russian Doll (2019). But Palm Springs is refreshing for its irreverence and brightness, for the philosophical and spiritual understanding when confronting timelessness, immortality and no future.

Unlike the other formally dressed guests, Nyles shows up to the wedding in a printed Hawaiian shirt and swimming shorts. If you wonder how he knows so much about the bride and her family, and how he dances around a chaotic floor without missing a step, it’s because Nyles has been here before – many times. Sarah is new to this infinite loop conundrum, of waking up at exactly the same time, in the same place, on the same day. As much as he’s about living in the now, she’s desperate to find a way out. He’s adjusted to his yesterday and tomorrow being the same as his today. Sarah finds Nyles’s submissiveness infuriating and attractive. His empty bank of memories, where he doesn’t even recollect what his job was, also baffles her. He is drawn to this flawed woman and begins to look forward to every new, repeated day that offers a new adventure with her.

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While the genre touches on sci-fi—there are references to quantum physics (and dinosaurs)—Barbakow and Siara present the film with lightness. It’s not a scary place, in fact it teaches the loopers to accept their fate, to succumb and rescind control. The juxtaposition is illustrated through Roy (J.K. Simmons), a very, very angry man who blames Nyles for entrapping him in a vicious cycle.

In an interview to Harper’s Bazaar, Milioti said, “Sit in the discomfort of your past, of your present, of the fears you have about the future. I think that the only way out is through.” And this is one of the existential questions posed by the award-winning Palm Springs.

Director Max Barbakow said the script “evolved from an absurdly comic, existentialist, mumblecore death bender movie into the love story you see now”. Now that’s a version I’d like to see.
Udita Jhunjhunwala is an independent film critic, lifestyle writer, author and festival curator. She can be found on Twitter @UditaJ and Instagram @Udita_J

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