Andy Samberg hasn’t had a star turn in a movie since 2016’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and really only has one rom-com under his belt with 2012’s Celeste and Jesse Forever. Outside of that latter role, Samberg has rarely deviated from the over-the-top, devil-may-care, face-shifting weirdness that’s defined much of his career on Saturday Night Live, Brooklyn 99 and beyond. But in the new Hulu movie Palm Springs we’re reminded of why Celeste and Jesse Forever worked and why Samberg has range well beyond what might be commonly held ideas around his comedic lanes.
In Palm Springs Samberg plays Nyles, a dude who seems to be working through something of a crippling depression that has him drinking beer constantly and operating with very few f@#$s to give while in Palm Springs for his girlfriend’s best friend’s wedding. It’s clear Nyles doesn’t want to be there, has no interest in the fanfare or decorum of the wedding around him, and is even less concerned with hiding any of this to the rest of the wedding guests.
It’s something of a slow burn into the crux of the story, with Nyles coming off early as something of a drifting loser, overly confident but almost existential in his approach to life and love and loneliness. But even with these negatives, early on it’s clear that Nyles is also weirdly, in full control of his world at this wedding.
Which is why it’s doubly curious when, while apparently fully wasted, he pulls off a wedding speech for the ages and a fully choreographed dance number to boot. But things snap into focus relatively quickly when we learn that Nyles has such control because he’s already played this day out, over and over and over again. Nyles is stuck in a Palm Springs time loop with the best comparison probably being Groundhog Day and Phil Connors’ infinite struggle to stop reliving life in Punxsutawney.
Along for the ride is Sarah (Cristin Milioti), who unwittingly enters something of the same wedding day, a veritable Palm Springs hell. The two enter into a relationship by circumstance, each now going through the loop together with decidedly different goals and views of the world.
Whereas in Groundhog Day, we watch Phil’s journey of realization about his time loop from hell and subsequent madness, with Nyles we catch up with him somewhere around his 1000th (at least) iteration. And the results are hilarious. Sandberg is perfectly cast in Palm Springs, totally believable in his full embrace of a life on constant repeat, willing to push the boundaries of just about everything as he deals with a full-blown existential crisis. Imagine Meursault from The Stranger who also knew there’d be no real consequences for his actions. And then imagine it’s all funny.
Palm Springs gets a lot right, most specifically it’s clear path and story. While utterly ludicrous, in terms of premise it still has a strong direction and arc, following Nyles as he struggles with loneliness and the scary proposition of what could happen were the loop to ever break. Samberg is amazing as a tortured soul who’d long since given up any hope of a life. While we get a lot of the dweeby nonchalance he’s most known for, there’s another layer of vulnerability that pushes him past the ordinary.
Palm Springs explores much more beyond the simple premise of infinite time loops and comically reliving the same day over and over. There’s a certain feeling of helplessness that feels tied to our current world, even in all of its lunacy. It’s hilarious and touching, ridiculous and sublime. It’s a love story about losing things you don’t know you have. About the prospect of living each day with intense purpose or intense sadness, or intense joy and having both full control over it and no control at all.
And what’s even more amazing is that this is the first feature-length film from director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara. What they accomplish as relative first-timers is amazing. Palm Springs is spectacularly shot, has near-perfect comedic timing, keeps you guessing throughout, plays with a range of emotions, works in subtlety around difficult themes like depression while also never straying from its main objective. In all, Palm Springs is an excellent movie and I could easily have signed up for another 30+ minutes of Samberg working his way through this world over and over.
Comedy movies are hard. Rom-coms, even harder. Sure we’re treated to many, many attempts every year. Most fall utterly flat and wind up completely forgettable. Palm Springs is the outlier. It hits every beat and nails nearly every moment. This is a fantastic film, one you want to repeat into infinity right along with Nyles.