Déjà Vu movies are a dime a dozen. Also known as time loop movies, these films often focus on a select group of individuals experiencing the same day or event over and over again and every decade we get more and more of them, with many proving to be quite memorable like “Groundhog Day”, “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Happy Death Day”. It didn’t take long for the 2020s to get their own time loop film with the release of Hulu’s “Palm Springs”. Starring Andy Samberg of Lonely Island fame, Cristin Molioti and J.K. Simmons, “Palm Springs” see this trio stuck living the same day over and over again as they embrace comedic hijinks and attempt to figure out how to end their living hell. It’s funny, engaging, and has a lot of heart even if it doesn’t quite fully define itself from the long line of similar films that preceded it. Still if you’re going to tread on overly traveled ground, this might be one of the best examples of how to do it right.
“Palm Springs” sees Andy Samberg as Nyles who has found himself stuck in a time loop on the day of a wedding he and his cheating girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) are attending. During one of his loops Nyles accidentally drags Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the sister of the bride, into the same loop and the two slowly bond as they live the same day over and over again while trying to avoid a third time loop victim, J.K. Simmons’ Roy, who seeks revenge against Nyles. It all adds up to a pretty fun comedy adventure all confined to a single 24-hour period relived over and over again. Right from the start things get off on the right foot as Nyles is already stuck in his time loop and it’s clear he’s used to living the day repeatedly. He’s aware of his girlfriend’s infidelity, he shows muscle memory for where people are on the dance floor, his rivalry with Roy is quickly hinted at and he just has an all around careless attitude like he’s going through the motions. When he accidentally brings Sarah into his world he finally has a companion to share his misery with and this story of drug fueled shenanigans, mildly comedic suicide attempts and slacking off slowly evolves into a slickly realized allegory for how real relationships work, two people at certain points in their lives eventually find each other but it takes time for their appreciation and love for one another to blossom.
Director Max Barbakow, in his directorial debut, and writer Andy Siara do an impressive job turning what it essentially a generic and cliché idea into a fully realized product with hidden meaning and a touch of uniqueness that helps it hold its own. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are an excellent comedic pair and play off each other well making for a hilarious duo to spend our time with. J. K. Simmons is a nice added touch who doesn’t get a lot of screen time but adds something special to the story by serving as the first person Nyles brings into his time loop nightmare. Simmons’ Ron was Nyles’ only purposeful attempt to share the time loop discovery and experience it with someone else while Sarah is an unintentional addition to his loop and one he regrets because he knows it screwed up her life the way it did Ron’s. Ron was a man looking for something better, but didn’t find it in the repetition because he can’t grow older and watch his family grow. Sarah on the other hand is stuck in her existence and ends up growing as a person from the loop. Nyles is somewhere in between. The three characters and their stories create a multi-layered use of the time loop concept that carries deeper meaning from enjoying the simple moments to the complexities of building a relationship and how each day carries something special in its own way. It’s with these small special touches that “Palm Springs” shines the most giving us a character driven narrative that, while deep and thought provoking, never takes itself too seriously.
Even if you want to discard the mushy, more meaningful ideas, this is still simply a great comedy film. Samberg and Milioti’s comedic chops and abilities to bring out the best in every joke and moment and are a big part of why this film is so much fun. “Palm Springs” does lean maybe too heavily on some pretty tired jokes and ideas but they all work to create an engaging, tightly crafted and rarely unfunny collection of days and scenes that are wildly ridiculous experiences for both the characters and the viewer. While my one real criticism is that the time loop idea has been done to death, but “Palm Springs” doesn’t seem to care. It does, inevitably, succeed by embracing all of the best aspects of its chosen story structure adding layers of human experiences and comedic genius to make every day feel unique and show true character growth along the way. It’s a refreshing offering in a world that seems all too secure with revisiting the same concepts over and over again without an ounce of originality to show for it. This movie is proof that it’s possible to do the same thing as past films but also succeed in offering something truly special that stands on its own.
“Palm Springs” doesn’t redefine the time loop subgenre, but in a collection of movies from decades past that honestly has few duds “Palm Springs” still manages to stand out as an effective comedy with heart, meaning and genuine inspiration at its core. Few comedies these days can manage to say something sincere while also keeping the tone lighthearted and goofy all the way through and “Palm Springs” does just that. It’s not completely original, but it’s high concept ideas and themes, capable and committed cast, and ability to feel fresh and familiar at the same time all add up to probably the best comedy of the year so far. To put it simply, it’s an incredibly good time that just might make you think about how complex relationship building really is and how important one day or one moment can be to the big picture.