Lonely Island’s ‘Palm Springs,’ A Spiritual Cousin To ‘Groundhog Day,’ Is Absolutely Fantastic

Sometimes I wonder how many movie ideas stall after people get cold feet because their idea is “too close to Groundhog Day.” It’s a weird thing, Groundhog Day came out 27 years ago, but seems to be one of the few movie premises people dare not try to emulate. I bet we lost some good movies along the way because it’s not as much about a day repeating over and over, it’s more about the people experiencing that particular day and what they do with it. So, yes, Palm Springs (which premiered here at Sundance and is about to sell for a lot of money) has similar rules that we saw in Groundhog Day — if you die or fall asleep, the day starts over in the same way (a slight difference is, if you can stay awake for a few days, you won’t start over until you do) — but the people experiencing this time loop are completely different animals.

The day in question involves a wedding in Palm Springs (hence the title of the movie). When we meet Nyles (Andy Samberg) he seems almost strangely carefree and also maybe a bit too polished in his behavior. Through a twist of fate (long story), Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is sucked into an infinite time loop and starts repeating this same day over and over. As it turns out, Nyles has been experiencing this loop for a long time and seems to somewhat enjoy it. I mean, look, I’ve been thinking about this: it doesn’t seem that bad. First of all, you basically become immortal. You don’t age. There are literally no repercussions for anything. You can eat, drink, do whatever pleases you and the next day everything starts over. And as opposed to being stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Nyles is free to travel anywhere he wants, as long as he doesn’t fall asleep. So, this is an interesting twist to this dilemma: What if you have to relive the same day over and over and you’re totally fine with that and actually start to enjoy it?

Obviously things change when Sarah enters the time loop. She is not okay with it. She wants out. And Nyles gets to sit back and laugh and laugh and laugh as she plays trial and error with all her attempts to break out of the loop that Nyles has tried an infinite amount of times. But, see, right there: instead of Phil Connors having to start all over with everyone, these two wake up and just continue where they left off. Early in the film, Sarah comes to the conclusion that karma is the key. She has to be completely selfless to break out of the time loop. This is as close Palm Springs comes to actually mentioning Groundhog Day (I would bet money there was a discussion if they should put in a direct reference here or not.) Also, no, this doesn’t work either.

Samberg and Milioti are great together. And then throw in J.K. Simmons as a, well, the less said about his character the better. And yes, as I’ve already done numerous times, this movie will get compared to Groundhog Day to death. But so what? (At the post-premiere Q&A, the filmmakers were asked about Groundhog Day, the response was a deft, “What’s that?”) I’m now convinced that “infinite time loop” should be its own genre and every year we get a new movie with different characters stuck inside and we just get to watch how they react. Instead of Phil Connors moping around, then finally deciding to better himself, we get these two lovable losers who seem to kind of enjoy their predicament (well, at least one of them does).

As a bit of an aside: On Sunday, the day I saw this, as you probably know, some pretty sad news hit, which was right before this screening. It’s one of those things that makes a person, even here at Sundance, just not in the mood to watch movies. I, reluctantly, went anyway. One of the best compliments I could give Palm Springs was, even with bleak news, I was glad I went. It’s a movie that captured my attention and put me in a better mood for 90 minutes. Sometimes, that’s all a movie needs to do.

(UPDATE: Palm Springs has been purchased by Hulu and NEON for a reported $17, 500,000.69, making it the biggest film sale in Sundance history.)

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