Check out the Video Lab Podcast, where Sam and I talk about this movie in more detail.
“Palm Springs” is a comedic bright spot for the awful year of 2020 that makes good use of the Groundhogs Day time loop formula. Its well written, full of humor and heart that perfectly fill the film from start to finish. Playing with an infinite time loop in film is almost an inevitably enjoyable recipe, because characters have free reign to experiment with reality in goofy and unexpected ways.
Main characters Nyles and Sarah struggle with the meaning of their lives stuck within a horrible loop, but their dilemma and dialogue can just as easily be applied to questions of making life outside of such situations worthwhile as well.
Sarah: “Well, then what’s the point of living?”
Nyles: “Well, we kind of have no choice but to live. So I think your best bet is just to learn how to suffer existence.”
Some of the best moments in the film are with J.K. Simmons as Nyles’ antagonist and fellow time warp prisoner, Roy. Those most poignant come from interactions with Roy, who has the opposite experience of Nyles (who, as his name perhaps intentionally suggests, is the definition of nihilistic) in that he truly grapples with how miserable it is for him to have no future even as his repeated day is so good. Roy says that “staying in the same moment is literally the same as death.”
What’s most enjoyable about this iteration of time loop cinema—granted its hard to distill the entire genre—is that it isn’t focused on the physics or moral character mechanics of why these people are stuck in a loop. By showing Sarah, Nyles, and Roy trapped in a world due to circumstances outside of their control, their characters are free to develop separate from the purpose of solving that dilemma. As a result, rather than feeling contrived or plot top heavy, “Palm Springs” feels free flowing and freshly unpredictable. It is a contender for one of the better films of the year, and one well worth a repeat viewing.