In an alternate universe, Palm Springs premiered in theaters this summer after a record-breaking deal at Sundance. (Record breaking by 69 cents, which just makes sense.) In an alternate universe, it’s one of many summer movies we’d be buzzing about, telling you: This is the one to see. It’s smart! And funny! And much deeper than it seems! And it has Andy Samberg!
But we’re not in that universe, where movie theaters are open and we can gossip over drinks about how Andy Samberg and Joanna Newsom are one of the best celebrity couples of our generation. Instead, Hulu released the existential comedy straight to streaming – making it the perfect release for month five of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same,” Nyles (Andy Samberg) says near the start of the film, summing up what life feels like under quarantine.
The plot of Palm Springs is simple: Two wedding guests, Nyles and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), get stuck reliving the same day over, and over, and over again. Think Groundhog Day or Russian Doll, but add in Andy Samberg in a Hawaiian shirt and a bathing suit, and some legitimate attempts at explaining the time loop. The film is Max Barbakow’s directorial debut, and written by Andy Siara.
On the note of Samberg, he’s perfect in the film. He’s a star. Milioti tells GQ: “He gets very vulnerable and raw, and I was so blown away by that.” For Andy Samberg fans: This is it. If you weren’t in love with him already, prepare to have a crush arise instantaneously.
At the start of the film, it’s clear Nyles has been stuck in this loop for a long time before Sarah inadvertently also gets stuck. When she wakes up on the same morning, her younger sister’s wedding, she storms off to find Nyles. Cool as a cucumber, he tells her, “It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about.”
But Palm Springs is so much more than an infinite time loop situation. At its heart, the film is a romantic comedy that addresses our generation’s existential dread about the future head-on. (I’m using “our generation” loosely here because I still do not know if I’m a millennial or a Gen Z. Am I a zennial?) Nyles and Sarah face deep existential dread: They cannot die (when they die, the day just re-starts), and they cannot escape the loop. I have never lived an infinite time loop – they do not actually exist, right? — yet, I saw myself reflected back in Nyles and Sarah. I felt their fears about the future, about trying to escape the inevitable, and about feeling like whatever you do is meaningless.
I am someone who read every single dystopian, speculative fiction, catastrophe-is-coming novel I could get my hands on in high school (and since). I read climate change news every day with growing terror. Many days, I don’t think we have a future. I know that the childhood of my future children will likely not look like my own. The climate crisis is here, it’s real, and it lingers in the back of my mind as a humming, everyday terror.
Palm Springs is the first piece of art I’ve seen that has reflected this existential terror. Let me be clear: The film is not about climate change. It’s about the fear of growing up, of facing consequences, of dealing with real emotions, of how people cope with disaster.
Yet, in the film, we can see our fears about the world we live in — and some hope. Sarah, unwilling to spend eternity on the day of her sister’s wedding, decides to study quantum physics to figure out how to get the fuck out. (I won’t spoil you.) There is hope. Even though Nyles feels like his life has become devoid of meaning, at one point, he tells Sarah, “I mean, I hope it’s not all meaningless.”
Same with climate change: I hope what climate activists are trying to do now is not meaningless. I hope there is hope. Googling “climate change fear” brings one to an article in The Harvard Gazette entitled “What scares you most about climate change?” One expert quoted, Aaron Bernstein, replies: “Climate change doesn’t scare me, and it need not scare anyone. To combat fear that grows from inaction and inadequate leadership, we must remind ourselves time and again that we have solutions to the climate crisis and that these solutions improve health today, especially for the poor and vulnerable, and that they provide for a more just and livable world for our children.” We have the solutions, we just need action — and our leaders to implement them. We need leaders who believe in climate change to begin with.
Similarly, Palm Springs is perfectly suited to our pandemic moment. The COVID-19 pandemic still feels terrible and scary, even if people are pretending it’s over. It’s not over, it’s still here, it’s real (wear a mask!), and it feels like we’re going to be living through a pandemic forever. But, I take a deep breath and remember: We will get through this. There is still hope.
You may very well watch Palm Springs this weekend and not come away with any feelings or thoughts on climate change or public health or the pandemic. And that’s alright! It’s a delightful and funny and charming movie, and I have I mentioned Andy Samberg is a dream in it?! That’s the beauty of Palm Springs: It’s enjoyable surface-level and it’s surprisingly deep. And it will be whatever you need.
Samberg told GQ that he was drawn to the script because “it was well-written, and mixed with real comedy. Which, for me, is how life feels. It’s miserable and terrifying and wonderful and beautiful. And in the darkest moments, comedy rises out of it.”
Miserable, terrifying, wonderful, beautiful. Yeah, this is indeed a movie for these times.
Palm Springs is streaming on Hulu, beginning July 10.