It’s been done before. That time loop where we re-live the same day over and over again. Groundhog Day, anybody? And an extravagant wedding forcing an unlikely couple into each other’s company, only for them to find out they have way more in common than anybody could have expected. Destination Wedding, if you like. Put them together and you have Palm Springs, the big hit of 2020’s Sundance. It takes a gutsy director to tinker with one of the best-loved comedies of all time, let alone for their debut feature, but Max Barbakow easily has the chops for it and the result is a film that more than happily stands on its own feet.
SNL and Brooklyn Nine Nine’s Andy Samberg is Nyles, a slacker trapped in a time loop – he can’t remember for how long – so that he’s been re-living the same day at a plush wedding. Resigned to his situation, he spends his time getting drunk, playing pranks and taking full advantage of the hotel facilities, until one night he meets the bride’s sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), and the two hit it off. So much so that she finds herself in the same damn loop – and then discovers she’s not alone. Because Nyles is being pursued by the vengeful Roy (J K Simmons), who is less than happy about endlessly repeating the same day. Chaos is inevitable and, caught in the middle, Sarah decides she’s not going to accept it. She’s going to find a way out. And fast.
So, yes, the similarities with the Bill Murray classic are obvious, but expanding the idea so that Nyles isn’t alone in that repetitive lifestyle opens the door not only to more characters, but to a clutch of mini narratives surrounding them and some brilliantly funny visual gags. From shattered teeth, through embarrassing wedding speeches to a deliciously wicked sequence involving a lecherous guest in a blindfold, the laughs come regularly and, more often than not, loudly. It also means that, despite such a familiar premise, the film avoids being predictable and we get to learn more about Nyles’ often cringemaking backstory, especially when it comes to relationships.
Much hangs on the partnership at the film’s centre and it positively sparkles thanks to the chemistry of the Samberg/Milioti combo. While he’s laid-back – often to the point of horizontal – and cynical, she reflects the film’s breakneck speed with her determination to live a life which he lost somewhere along the way. It almost goes without saying that J K Simmons steals every scene he’s in. There’s only a handful, leaving us longing for more, but his Roy is cunning, relentless and the prime mover of one of the film’s best scenes. The irony is that, away from being a guest at the wedding, his actual life comes as a massive surprise.
There’s another irony to the film, one that Barbakow could never have imagined as he worked on the script and put the project together. Weeks after the film had its Sundance premiere, millions of us started living through our own personal time-loops. But such is the film’s vibrancy – let’s face it, anything that kicks off with lurid pink and yellow credits and Demis Roussos’ vibrato warbling “Ever And Ever” is going to raise a smile from the get-go – that such accidental topicality doesn’t feel out of place. If anything, it makes the story even more magnetic and a genuine crowd pleaser. The yo-yoing release schedules of the past year mean we can only watch it online instead of in cinemas, where it genuinely belongs, but having waited so long for it, there’s only one thing to do. Welcome it with open arms. It would be rude not to.
Comedy, Rom Com | Cert: 15 | Amazon Prime | 9 April 2021 | Dir. Max Barbakow | Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J K Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, June Squibb.