I’m not inclined to think that the Groundhog Day scenario is over-played at this point. The basic story over “I’m trapped in the same day over and over again” has been played out numerous times in recent years in films like Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day. That said, it’s a smart premise for a story. The fact that it can be swapped between comedy, horror and action genres shows it’s potential as a framing device!
Palm Springs is the newest iteration on this thematic framing device. The film is a Hulu exclusive produced by several members of The Lonely Island (late of SNL, MacGruber and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping).
The film definitely feels like a Lonely Island rendition of this story premise. It’s a story headlined by young people, adolescent angst, heavy drinking and crude sexual humor. That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t work. Palm Springs is a very clever movie that captures the banality of it’s premise.
The film is set on a particularly brutal and depressing day for our characters: a wedding. Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) are both in Palm Springs, CA to visit their mutual friend’s weddings when both characters stumble into a glowing red cave and discover that they’re now trapped in the wedding day over and over. No matter what happens, they wake up in the same bed over and over again.
As Andy Sandberg’s character philosophizes: “I don’t know what it is. It could be life. It could be death. It could be a dream. I could be imagining you. You could be imagining me. It could be purgatory or a glitch in this simulation we’re both in. I don’t know. So I decided a while ago to sort of give up and stop trying to make sense of things all together because the only way to really live in this is to embrace the fact that nothing matters… I think your best method is simply to suffer existence.”
A bit on the nose if I’m being honest…
The movie does somewhat distance itself from Groundhog Day early on but establishing that the time loop ISN’T a metaphor for learning to live a selfless life. The characters do try charity (somewhat halfheartedly) and it doesn’t break the loop.
“It didn’t work! Life is meaningless!” – Sarah
I guess that posits Palm Spring as the atheist/nihilist rebuttal to Groundhog Day. If that film is an Aristotelian/Christian moral story about learning to live selflessly for the sake of others, this film is the opposite. It still tries to grapple with the same themes of banality and depression but there’s no God or objective morality to bail them out of the time-loop.
In that sense, it’s interesting that Palm Springs is structured like a romantic comedy. Nyles and Sarah start the film emotionally detached from the wedding and initially bond with one another over their desire to sleep together after their dates abandon them. Realizing that they’re the only characters who can connect to each other, the two quickly start bonding and having fun with each other.
In a roundabout way, Palm Springs does come to the same conclusion as Groundhog Day: Life is only what you put into it. That said, the moral content here is very different. The final conclusion of the story is merely that the banality of life is endless and inescapable but it’s worth it if you can carve out a small corner of the universe for yourself and someone you can build a relationship with. I can appreciate the humanism of that premise but it does feel lacking in comparison to the film it’s borrowing so heavily from.