This blog is about a film in which we swap Pennsylvania for California. Unashamedly, indeed gleefully, riffing off Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray/Andie MacDowell classic, Palm Springs is a film in which a romantic liaison blossoms in the preposterously left-field environment of a time loop, the adventurers this time being Andy Samberg, who plays Nyles, and Cristin Milioti, who is fabulous as Sarah. The premise this time is not a regional news broadcast about a rodent in winter but about a wedding, of Sarah’s sister, in permanently sun-kissed southern California. And there is, of course, a permanence, an unwanted one, to the lives of the central characters.
The real Palm Springs is shown on the home page. The surreal Palm Springs is shown on Amazon Prime, cinemas being so last year’s thing. (Make that more like 2019.) Nyles has been in this loop for quite some time; Sarah is a neophyte. Things do get awkward for a while after he reveals to her that they have had sex in a few of his previous incarnations, a detail of which she, of course, has no recollection. The crazed reality of waking up each morning in the same bed even after she has the previous day driven all the way home to Texas, and on another occasion been smashed into by a truck, gradually baffle her first into submission and then into a determination to break out of this cycle.
Max Barbakow’s movie was actually shot two years ago, before we had heard of lockdown. I’m guessing it got released now because they got tired of waiting for cinemas to reopen, but a film about a time-loop somehow seems more relevant given the way the world has been for the past 12 months and more. And this is enjoyable; a lot of laughs.
One evening they go out to the desert, eat some magic mushroom and have (fully consensual) sex, an occasion tainted the next morning when Sarah realises that she has been spending the night before her sister’s wedding in bed with her husband-to-be. She eventually forms a plan to secure an escape for our somewhat star-crossed lovers. They both realise they entered the time-loop when they went into a particular cave in the desert. She resolves she is going to get out of this situation by entering the cave again and blowing herself up. Get it right, and she won’t kill herself (she’s tried that and she knows it doesn’t work) but she will get out. Get it wrong, and…well. Nyles lets her go alone but then changes his mind and drives out to join her. “I hope that blowing ourselves up works,” he says, “but it’s really irrelevant to me so long as I’m with you. I’d rather die with you than live in this world without you.” To which she responds: “There is a chance that this life can be a little less mundane with you in it.”
Still less romantically, she says: “What if we get sick of each other?” To which he replies: “We’re already sick of each other.” And into the cave they go. In Groundhog Day, the recurring song is I Got You, Babe by Sonny and Cher. Here, Barbakow chooses to mark their momentous entry into the unknown with Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. I guess the relevant line from the song is “I just know that something good is gonna happen”. The film’s ending is very good.