Love stories and life have three things in common (sorry for the bullshit opener but I swear this will work)…
- They get monotonous
- An amazing person can help get you through them
- Palm Springs provides a fresh take on them
The layers of commentary in Palm Springs leaves the movie open for so much significance and interpretation, but at its most obvious, the movie is a commentary on the way in which life can feel so pointless and repetitive and how love can often be the only escape.
To communicate this message, Palm Springs tells a love story (which can also feel pointless and repetitive) using time travel (an over-done and tired trope), and blows them both up with a completely new approach and C4 explosive vests.
Palm Springs’ new approach to the romantic comedy starts in the first fifteen minutes, with one of the most bizarre and incomprehensible opening sequences I have seen in film. The main character, Nyles (played by Andy Samberg) is completely disengaged from life, unable to have sex with his girlfriend, asked her to kill him, attended a wedding in a Hawaiian shirt, drank beers with carefree abandon, hijacked the wedding toast, and was hunted by an unnamed man with a compound bow before crawling into a cave emanating a bright red light. None of it is explained.
But those moments will all be explained when Sarah (played by Cristin Milioti) is caught in the time loop with Nyles. The story line doesn’t make sense until Nyles finds someone to share it with (getting the metaphor here?). As the movie goes on, Nyles’ life starts to matter again and he reengages with the day-to-day monotony. Meanwhile, the viewer is delightfully re-engaged with romantic comedies, something that has become as monotonous as the millionth time reliving a wedding.
The movie’s new approach is solidified with their fresh take on the Groundhog’s Day storyline, by introducing us to Nyles after he has been in the time loop for a ridiculously long amount of time (seen through his ability to know not only everyone’s lines and reactions to every possibility of events at the wedding, but also stuff like the location of trashcans at out of the way food stops). Life has become a series of events that lack any surprise or meaning to him, until he goes through it with Sarah. It’s a clever approach. A simple shift in perspective that allows for a modern telling of an old tale.
This level of self-awareness is rare in films, and when it is on display it can often be self-aggrandizing and off-putting. But Palm Springs is warm and engaging. Bringing viewers into the story as slowly and surely as a first date.
Palm Springs is a must see in a year of so few movies being released. And its hour and thirty-minute runtime is a breath of fresh air amidst so many magnum opuses taking anywhere from two to three hours to slog through.
I don’t remember the last time I so quickly fell in love with a story. It didn’t vault its way to the top of my favorite movies list, but it was so understandable and relatable and new that I didn’t need to sift through my feelings on its complexities. Palm Springs’ complexities were mine, and it told a new story to help make sense of them. Seems like it did exactly what movies are here for, to break us out of the monotony of the day-to-day cycle.
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