During this Covid lockdown, the line between what is a "theatrical" film and what is a "TV" film is fuzzier than ever. And so the rules I once had, regarding what qualifies for a movie review on this website, are out the window. Accordingly, there's no rush to discuss Palm Springs, which was sold to Hulu before the pandemic even began. In fact I watched it two months ago and am only getting around to reviewing it now.
Palm Springs is another variation on the mini-genre sparked by Groundhog Day: the time loop film. While other entries in this genre have gone the sci fi or horror route, Palm Springs's wacky romcom tone hews closest to the Harold Ramis/Bill Murray original, for better or worse. This time, however, it's not just one character who's forced to relive the same day over and over, but two – and actually, as revealed in an early twist, three.
We meet Nyles (Andy Samberg) during what we soon learn is not his first relived day, but one hundreds of loops in. Said days all begin in a rented house in Palm Springs, where Nyles wakes up every morning next to his awful girlfriend (a funny Meredith Hagner) as they prepare for a friend's wedding that afternoon. At the reception, Nyles bonds with Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the bride's sardonic sister, for the first or possibly thousandth time. One thing leads to another that night, and Sarah ends up entering a mysterious cave in the desert that – surprise! – forces her into Nyles's time loop, much to her displeasure.
Palm Springs is entertaining, but there's something undercooked about it. The main problem is that it doesn't take full advantage of the one element that separates it from Groundhog Day, which had already covered all the time loop bases back in 1993: multiple characters dwelling in this limbo together. Yes, there's a fun montage of Nyles and Sarah going wild for a few days (weeks? months?), but it's not enough to establish a deep connection between the two. Even worse, Sarah disappears for a long stretch of the film, leaving us stuck with Nyles as he mulls over his feelings for her, as if her own feelings aren't even a factor. (Blame screenwriter Andy Siara for giving her character such short shrift.) This is especially regrettable as Cristin Milioti is so sharp and charismatic in the role. Samberg is likable enough, but she is far more interesting, and deserves more screen time than she gets.
Palm Springs is raunchier than Groundhog Day, if you crave that sort of thing, and it doesn't ask much from you. Its pseudo-scientific explanation for the time loop doesn't satisfy like Groundhog Day's metaphysical fantasy approach, and the movie wraps up all too quickly. But it delivers a few solid laughs and surprises, and it's a reasonable enough way to kill an hour and a half of your own repetitive, seemingly endless lockdown existence.