Palm Springs (2020)

Palm Springs combines ingredients from a wide range of influences and cooks up a brand new casserole:  Groundhog Day is an obvious source, but anybody fluent enough in pop culture nerdery will spot Star TrekThe Twilight Zone, Judd Apatow, John Hughes and many others.  Somehow, by some strange miracle, the resulting film tastes like something wholly original and real damn delicious.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of a ticket to Flavortown!  (I’ve allotted myself exactly one Guy Fieri reference per year, so pause for a moment and enjoy it, won’t you?) 

It’s November 9th, and a bougie wedding party assembles in the titular oasis for a night of drunken banality. Amidst the slobbering toasts and clumsy dance floor grinding, two sore thumbs quickly pop into view:  Nyles (Andy Samberg) struts around in swim trunks and flippy floppies, pulling swigs off a never-ending beer can and acting like all his give-a-shit just got shot into outer space.  Meanwhile, surly Sarah (Cristin Milioti) stays stuck in Janeane Garofalo Mode, scowling behind a wine glass and turning down offers to dance.  When Nyles and Sarah meet, it sets off a supernova of cynicism.  Ironically, their determination to stay socially detached draws them together.

Faced with undeniable chemistry, Nyles and Sarah steal into the desert for some boozed-up nookie.  This escapade gets ruined by a hilariously violent encounter–which I won’t dare spoil here–that sends a wounded Nyles crawling into a nearby cave.  Fueled by a blend of worry and curiosity, Sarah follows Nyles toward the cave’s Poltergeist glow, and they’re both sucked into a temporal vortex.  Sarah wakes up, sound as a pound, and discovers that November 9th is happening all over again.  Even more horrifying, Nyles has been riding this roller coaster for eons, and his ass cheeks have settled into purgatory like an old BarcaLounger.

This sets Nyles and Sarah at philosophical odds with one another.  He finds a blessing within this eternal curse:  No tomorrow means life has been stripped of consequences.  Nyles can down beer and magic mushrooms, screw anybody anywhere, or crash an airplane, all for the sheer thrill of doing it.  Meanwhile, Sarah boils with frustration and immediately resolves to escape from this unending loop.  Despite their differences, the two form a real bond, and slowly bring out the best traits in each other.

As I said before, I don’t wan’t to give away too much.  A lot of the fun in Palm Springs lies with how wacky and spontaneous it feels.  And smart, too:  Much of the dialogue between Nyles and Sarah pops with raunchy sarcasm.  Writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow nick the edgier humor from Groundhog Day, but they also balance it with that film’s sticky sweetness.  Even at their most hedonistic, we never stop rooting for Nyles and Sarah to find their way together. 

A big reason for that can be traced to the performances of Samberg and Milioti.  She gives Sarah a 24 Karat heart underneath her outer shell of emotional exhaustion.  Notice Milioti’s face during a climactic wedding toast–her eyes brim with a blend of warmth and sadness.  For Samberg, this very well might be a cinematic breakout performance.  He spent years as an SNL all-star, but like so many of his peers, Samberg struggled to prove ready for the big screen.  Here lies definitive proof that his humor goes beyond bite-sized portions.  Also of note:  J.K. Simmons shows up for a small role, one that’s both bizarrely funny and surprisingly moving.

Actually, both of those descriptions sum up Palm Springs as a whole.  It draws Inspiritus from a slew of recognizable origins, but it does so with incredible skill.  Actors will often say that comedies are much more difficult than dramas, maybe because there’s some kind of unknowable magic to making someone laugh.  Well, Palm Springs must have magic to spare, because I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie in many, many years. 

90 minutes.  R.  

 

 

 

Author: Todd Wofford

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