The last few years have seen a resurgence of romantic comedies, though some, like Palm Springs, put a new twist on the genre, finding a less-worn avenue through a film genre filled with overused tropes. Palm Springs is directed by Max Barbakow from a script written by Andy Siara, based on a story by both filmmakers. The movie still follows the archetypal rom-com story: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, etc. But with an eternal time loop thrown in, some quantum physics and a man hunting the boy for sport, Palm Springs certainly has elements not often seen in romantic comedies. Along with a sharp sense of humor and compelling performances, Palm Springs delivers an absolutely charming rom-com with a fun sci-fi twist.
Palm Springs follows the nihilistic Nyles (Andy Samberg), a young man trapped in a time loop on the day of his girlfriend’s best friend’s wedding. But on one of these repeating days, Nyles gets together with sister-of-the-bride Sarah (Cristin Milioti), and when they’re interrupted by Roy (J.K. Simmons) shooting Nyles with an arrow, Sarah follows him into a mysterious cave and gets sucked into the time loop herself. Although the pair use the time loop to have some fun and get to know each other, their situation is far more complicated than either Nyles or Sarah care to admit. Things are made even more difficult by both of them developing feelings for each other. However, it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to escape the time loop – and, if they do, whether they’ll be able to make it work in a relationship.
What makes Palm Springs work so well is it’s a blend of the familiar and the new. The romantic comedy genre is one of tropes and archetypes – there’s an expectation that viewers bring to romantic comedies and each film’s success depends on how well it can meet those expectations while still putting its own spin on the experience. To that end, Siara’s script features certain elements that will be easily predictable to viewers, though there’s also plenty that viewers won’t be able to anticipate. While the human drama of Palm Springs sticks closely to the tropes of rom-coms, the premise of the story is where Siara gets inventive. Typically, only one character in a story is stuck in a time loop and it’s used as a device to teach the character a lesson; it’s rare that two or more characters are trapped in a loop and even rarer (if it’s ever been done before) that the time loop is a backdrop for two characters falling in love. But the predictability of Palm Springs works in tandem with Siara’s entirely original premise to create a movie experience that feels both familiar and entirely new.
But, as with any romantic comedy, its success or failure is determined by the leads and their chemistry, which Samberg and Milioti have in spades. Both excel at playing their flawed, but entirely charming characters – the jaded Nyles and Sarah, the black sheep of her family who never lives up to their expectations. Both are unlucky in love at the time of the wedding, and being trapped in their time loop forces Nyles and Sarah to confront not only what they don’t like about the concept of love, but what they don’t like about themselves. Samberg and Milioti equally have the comedic and dramatic chops to pull off the roles, and the love story at the center of Palm Springs. With the help of Simmons, who has a small but significant role as Roy, and the fun performances of the supporting cast, Palm Springs is a well-rounded movie that gives its leads room to shine – and shine they do.
In the end, Palm Springs offers a wholly captivating and fresh rom-com experience – or at least, as fresh as it can be without straying too far from the archetypes that make up the genre. Though certain elements of Palm Springs‘ story may be too predictable for some, there’s enough originality to offset even the tired story beats. Perhaps Palm Springs‘ biggest flaw is that it breezes a little too quickly through certain parts of its story, but it ends up being a tight, nicely paced 90-minute movie so it ultimately works to the film’s benefit. With a whipsmart script by Siara, charmingly compelling performances by Samberg and Milioti and Barbakow’s excellent directing, Palm Springs delivers a delightfully offbeat rom-com.
As such, Palm Springs is perfect for fans of romantic comedies, especially viewers who enjoy the sense of humor of Samberg and The Lonely Island, who serve as producers on the film. Since both its lead characters are more cynical than hopeful about love, Palm Springs doesn’t feel overly corny. Though there’s nothing wrong with a corny rom-com, an utterly hopeful view of love and relationships can come off as unrealistic and with Palm Springs already implementing a time loop, the realism of imperfection helps to balance out the movie. Altogether, this romantic comedy is the perfect escape from the summer doldrums, with Palm Springs offering a totally entertaining and fun movie experience.
Palm Springs is now streaming on Hulu. It is 90 minutes long and rated R for sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some violence.
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