Kierkegaard and Camus wrote extensively on absurdism and existentialism, and death and dread and finding meaning in the chaos of life and the universe. Palm Springs takes this and throws in a romantic comedy plot.
Within the first fifteen minutes I was dreading this film, it just appeared to be a Happy Death Day rip-off, which itself is just a rip-off of Groundhog Day. But unlike Happy Death Day it didn’t seem aware of itself – which I also dreading. Delightfully, I was sorely mistaken. Instead what I was exposed to absurdist romcom with 80s vibes and purgatorial undertones.
Released July 2020, Palm Springs is Max Barbakow debut feature length. It follows two individuals at a Palm Springs resort for a wedding, Nyles (Andy Samburg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti). However, it is not their wedding that is the main event here, but instead Sarah’s sister, Tala (Camila Mendes). Nyles, is trapped in a time-loop, replaying the same day, 9th November, hundreds if not thousands of times repeatedly – the day of the wedding. Due to this he lives his repeated days drinking, relaxing, and enjoying (as much as he can) himself. However, after a series of events Sarah, too, becomes trapped in the time-loop.
Sarah, confused about the prior night’s events and evermore confused regarding how she, too, became entangled into this time-loop furiously confronts Nyles, and becomes increasingly agitated by his nonchalant and borderline nihilistic approach to the situation – (“we…. learn how to suffer existence.”). He explains to her, as well as he knows it, the situation and how he’s passed (pardon the pun) the time. Including, exploring the area, romantically engaging with women (and men, just to try it), and as-mentioned, drinking and idle relaxing.
The pair start to do all sorts of funny stunts, such as flash mob dancing inside a local bar, planting and then removing an explosive from the wedding cake in spectacular style, to busting Nyles’s girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner), cheating on him. A dark turn starts appear, however, Sarah starts to become wilder, taking her frustration out on others. Nyles is there to remind her that while other won’t know about any pain or suffering caused to them, she and him will remember, and will have to live it.
Nyles is aware of this as he’s been regularly hurt, tortured, and killed repeatedly by someone else he accidentally trapped in the time-loop, Roy (J. K. Simmons). Unlike the others, Roy has found his peace. Living only a very short distance away he lives eternally with his young children and wife, drinking beers and barbecuing meat, and enjoying what he has in the most perfect homeostatic state.
The film takes us down an interesting thought avenue. Putting aside the philosophy, it comes across very apt for our current situation. Nyles and Sarah are effectively trapped in a purgatorial state, a place of temporary (though feeling unending) punishment, unable to escape until their souls are purified for Heaven. Those who have been more aware of their state under lockdown may resonate with the characters and their seemingly inability to escape their ‘new normal’.
Make no mistake, while there are some philosophical and moral undercurrents to the film, it is still a romantic comedy at heart. Common are the one-liners that make you laugh out loud, and there is an abundance of silliness to keep you satisfied throughout. And unlike many romcoms, their romance is not forced, the chemistry between the two is as real as the Hawaiian shirt Nyles never stops wearing, even at the wedding reception.