By Tilly Long, Third Year, English
Time loop movies have often been synonymous with rom coms. Groundhog Day (1993) was the blueprint for this: Bill Murray’s cynical weatherman eventually gets the girl, having convinced her that he is trapped, reliving the same day. A sub-genre has since developed, with varying degrees of romantic whimsy ensuing. 50 First Dates (2004) is a heartwarming tale of Adam Sandler and an art teacher who suffers from amnesia, while About Time (2013) follows Domnhall Gleeson’s awkward navigation of his family’s deepest secret: all the men in the family are time travellers.
Yet another riff on the concept seemed already poised for monotony; what fresh themes were possibly leftover to explore in a time warp? American comedic trio, The Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone), have remedied this dilemma in typical fashion: by consuming it in the insanely surreal. Cult followers have witnessed the evolution of their specific brand of absurdist humour, from inventing the ‘Digital Short’ on sketch show Saturday Night Live, to writing, directing and starring in two wildly underrated feature films: Hot Rod (2007) and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016).
Whilst Samberg remains the permanent poster boy and starring role of all their operations, producing Palm Springs seems to mark a new era for the entire group. The film opens with professional production company logo ‘Lonely Island Classics’, signalling an intentional move away from their previous, somewhat outlandish endeavours. Not only that but its plot explores radically more mature themes than before, namely existentialism.
Palm Springs is so self-aware that many predictable tropes of this fantasy genre are able to be avoided entirely. As opposed to a protagonist who grapples with inescapable eternity, Nyles (Andy Samberg) has already adapted and even relaxed into his surroundings when we first encounter him. Forever waking up on the morning of an acquaintance's wedding, his nihilistic tendencies prove that he has indeed “given up” on life. He also takes no qualms in giving a drunk yet inspirational reception speech in ostentatiously Hawaiian attire, directed at the unsuspecting Sarah (Cristin Milioti): “Here you are, standing on the precipice of something so much bigger than anyone here.”
Whilst Groundhog Day-esque narratives typically consist of feverish attempts to convince your loved ones that you are stuck in a time loop, Nyles frequently drops clues without actually caring if anyone catches on. Lying on a pizza shaped lilo, he nonchalantly admits, “Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same.”
The movie’s most important subversive tactic is throwing someone else into the mix. Sarah accidentally enters Nyles’ world of repetition after following him into a fiery cave, resulting in copious adventures but also a philosophical exploration of the human condition.
But despite the inherently romantic backdrop of a wedding and the fact its main characters begin to grow fond of each other, the film does not shy away from bleaker themes of mortality. Early on, Nyles gives Sarah some matter of fact advice: “Life is meaningless...your best bet is to learn to suffer existence.” The leading roles are complex and flawed, having to live with the consequences of their actions, even though those around them remain completely oblivious.
Ultimately, Palm Springs is some much needed comic relief in these unprecedented times. Samberg’s performance consistently offers a refreshing, innovative approach to comedy, while Milioti grounds the film with her genuine earnestness. We can all relate to being stuck in what feels like a never ending existence in quarantine, but the film’s message is, at its core, one of utmost hope. The recurring days function as their own character, being a space for people to grow emotionally and learn from their mistakes, which they are then able to utilise when tomorrow eventually arrives.
Did you love Palm Springs as much as us? Let us know!