Sundance 2020: Lonely Island's Time Loop Comedy 'Palm Springs'
by Alex Billington
January 30, 2020
The Lonely Island boys are back with one of the best films they've ever made! Palm Springs is a hilarious, easy-to-love romantic comedy revolving around a time loop concept. I was not expecting to see a new Lonely Island comedy like this showing up out of nowhere at the Sundance Film Festival, but there it is, and it's amazingly enjoyable. And it's actually an independent film that needs distribution (it was bought by Hulu & Neon for $17.5 million and .69 cents) which is strange considering I don't know how any distributor didn't buy this the moment they heard about it. The script is great, but the movie itself is even better, a reassuring rom-com about two people who end up falling for each other (but must learn to overcome their own issues).
Palm Springs is directed by Max Barbakow, making his feature directorial debut after making shorts and docs previously. The screenplay is from Andy Siara, based on a story concept by Siara & Barbakow. And it's produced buy the Lonely Island guys (from SNL). We're introduced to Andy Samberg as Nyles, and learn very quickly that he's caught in a daily time loop waking up every morning as the boyfriend of the maid of honor at a wedding. Part of this movie's brilliance is the way it throws us right into the time loop already - Nyles has been looping hundreds (or more) times before and he's completely used to it, happy to accept his looping fate and enjoy beers all day at the pool in sunny Palm Springs. Everything changes when another guest, Sarah played by Cristin Milioti, notices something strange and gets stuck in the same loop as him.
I had a blast watching this, it's brilliant. It really, truly is. Palm Springs is hilarious and heartfelt and fresh despite the time loop concept being something we've seen plenty of times before. Samberg & Milioti are the best and have such amusing chemistry together, playing opposite of each other sometimes, and perfectly in sync with each other in other scenes. The film is so charming and genuinely funny and messes around with the time loop concept in smart ways. Easily one of my favorites of the festival, entertaining and gratifying all the way to the end. It's not easy to innovate with a time loop script, but this film successfully injects humor into the intelligent twists and philosophical questions this concept allows for. As fellow critic David Ehrlich tweeted, it's "pro-marriage propaganda", but not in any off-putting or annoying ways which is a huge relief.
There's so much I enjoyed about this film, no matter how cheesy it gets, no matter how weird it gets when it tangents into funky side adventures. The performances keep the film energetic, with plenty of good laughs throughout. And it's one of those delightful comedies that I'm already excited to watch again right away. I'd watch it twice in one day and would still laugh as much as I did the first time around. Ultimately, it ends up delivering the same message most romantic comedies have: spending a life together with someone you enjoy spending that time with is better than a life alone. And while that isn't anything new, the whole experience is so jovially humorous, it doesn't matter if you agree with what it's saying or not. So grab a beer and enjoy.