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‘Palm Springs:’ the Rom-Com for Hopeless Realists

“Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same.”

A thought we have all felt during quarantine and peak social isolation. 

If you’re anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with romantic comedies. Your heart warms when Heath Ledger stages a marching band flash mob, but you gag at the ditzy female lead, over-predictable events and overall lack of realism. I didn’t know a film could solve my rom-com pet peeves until Palm Springs

With Netflix’s Top Ten, theaters shut down and movies postponed, many of us haven’t seen a feature film since March (unless you paid $19.99 to watch The King of Staten Island). 

Luckily, film fanatics were blessed when Hulu released Palm Springs, a 90-minute rom-com that broke Sundance Film Festival’s record by 69 cents ($17,500,000.69), but it's not getting the attention it deserves. Although the film originally debuted at Sundance in January, its July 10 release couldn’t have come at a more perfect time surrounding the events of COVID-19. 

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Directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara, Palm Springs begins as a casual wedding hook-up between Nyles (Andy Samberg) and maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) that ends up in an infinite time-loop. 

Unlike Nyles, who has given up hope, Sarah is grasping at straws for ways to escape her life sentence. After a failed attempt, she comes to terms with her new reality. Together, Nyles and Sarah navigate past Roy (Nyles' assassin who is also in the time-loop, played by J.K. Simmons) and learn to enjoy their routine-like life as time goes on, much like all of us who had to adapt during quarantine. As Sarah falls into her own existential crisis, Nyles begins challenging his own way of thinking.

“Well, I hope it's not all meaningless.”

While the plot is pretty clever, the casting is what really sells Palm Springs. What better person for our nihilistic male lead (hence, ‘Nyles’) than Andy Samberg, with his fantastic facial expressions, blunt remarks and smooth dance moves? Similarly, Cristin Milioti’s wide eyes exemplify the best WTF expressions that are authentically hilarious to how one would react upon realizing their life is on inescapable repeat. (On a side note, I absolutely love when actors can execute cursing in a confident and powerful manner, and Samberg and Milioti do so exquisitely).

Other rom-coms are cast decently, but the pacing often misses the mark. Palm Springs sets the tone pretty matter-of-factly. This makes the unpredictable, short, violent scenes even more hysterical. The perspective switching between Sarah and Nyles is done seamlessly, with perfectly timed flashbacks to unveil the backstory without wasting your time.

Speaking as an extremely visual person, something often overlooked in movies is the cinematography (Quyen Tran was the cinematographer for Palm Springs). In Palm Springs, we see striking, vibrant colors of pool water and stylistic aerial shots that emphasize how something so simple — jumping into a pool, the hiss of a can opening, or shooting an arrow into someone’s shoulder — can be so beautiful, which is a lesson I’ve come to appreciate during quarantine.

Palm Springs also depicts the chaotic feelings of COVID-19 through its characters. For Nyles, the time loop is a bubble to hide in, but he learns how wonderful life is when shared. For Sarah, it's a challenge she has to battle past. And for Roy, it's a box he feels trapped in which he turns into paradise, not because the situation has changed, but because he has.

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My only caveat with the movie is how we learn about Sarah’s past, but we never find out about Nyles’ history, as he seems to have forgotten as well. It’s almost as if his past doesn’t matter — it raises questions on if living in the moment can actually strip away intimacy and the ability to fully know someone, or if the past truly doesn’t define who you are. 

Overall, Palm Springs was a refreshing romantic comedy and, frankly, a hoot and a half during our movie-less COVID times. It creates a unique perspective of those who are depressed and apathetic and depicts love, commitment and marriage from the viewpoint of individuals with emotional baggage.

Whether you’re cheating on your boyfriend, goat-hunting or wearing Orchid Explosion by Fournier, Palm Springs seamlessly combines elements of sci-fi and existentialism, but it sparks hope for us hopeless realists during these challenging times, and I hope it does for everyone else out there too.

Emphatic Period.

Other Favorite Quotes:

  1. “Well, we kind of have no choice but to live, so I think your best bet is just to learn how to suffer existence.”

  2. “Nothing worse than going through this sh*t alone.”

  3. “There’s a chance that this life can be a little less mundane with you in it.”

Anna Tam is a third-year psychology major at the University of Central Florida with a pending minor due to her abundance of eclectic interests. She is originally from the Champa Bay area with future aspirations in teaching abroad, sex psychology, and higher education. When she is not marveling over movies and TV shows, you can find her exploring, working out, or having an existential crisis.
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