Groundhog Day (not Groundhog’s Day by the way!) is a certifiable classic. Harold Ramis really knew he had something special on his hands back in 1993, and the time loop comedy has survived the modern era to the point where it may always be relevant. The samsaric cycle philosophy (also explored in “slice of life” vampire or other serial longevity-based films) is fascinating, especially when it’s explored in a down-to-earth way from an everyman like Bill Murray. While Andy Samberg isn’t quite this generation’s Murray, he’ll do just fine.
Although Palm Springs is decidedly a time loop comedy, it offers up a different take on the formula. Samberg plays Nyles: a man stuck in a loop after discovering a mysterious portal anomaly in a cave during a fateful day after a wedding in the titular city. For years on end, before the film even takes place, he meanders around the reception making connections until he finally meets Sarah: played by Cristin Milioti.
While I wouldn’t say that sparks fly when they’re on screen together, the chemistry is real enough. Sarah eventually learns the ins and outs of the time loop life and bonds with Nyles as an eternal prospective couple would, with lots of drama and rambunctious consequence-free fun. It works because Nyles is already in the midst of the insanity, coupled with the quick runtime of just an hour and a half (thank you editors: I’m willing to bet a two plus hour version exists somewhere).
Palm Springs isn’t romantic enough to elicit extreme emotions, or funny enough to warrant belly laughs. It gets its point across and then moves on before it has the chance to blow its premise. It also never approaches the line of cringe, ever so slightly walking that tightrope of silliness (nor does it descend into sappiness without a dash of edge to it).
Although Nyles is clearly the protagonist, we also get to see multiple points of view, including an entertaining turn from “Roy” – a mysterious and belligerent wedding guest that gets stuck in the loop with Nyles. The supporting cast is also a firm foundation, including Peter Gallagher, who delivers the line “this dentist glues teeth!” with such gusto I can believe that it’s real.
In lesser hands, Palm Springs would have been a forgettable fumble, but it all comes together nicely. You can see the wheels in writer Andy Siara’s head turning as the film moves from concept to concept, burrowing into the next level like an eager groundhog. I was interested throughout, which is more than I can say for a lot of drive-by streaming modern comedies.