Entertainment

Andy Samberg's New Rom-Com 'Palm Springs' Comes with a Genre-Bending Twist

The movie, which sold at Sundance for a very nice $17,500,000.69, revamps a 'Groundhog Day' scenario with Lonely Island sensibilities.

palm springs
Sundance

This story was originally published in January during the Sundance Film Festival

It's sort of impossible to not spoil the big twist in Andy Samberg's new comedy Palm Springs in a review. The program for Sundance Film Festival, where the rom-com premiered to great acclaim and sold to Neon and Hulu for a record-breaking $17,500,000.69, certainly did not let on that this was something more than a cutesy rom-com set at a wedding. Frankly, I almost skipped the screening in January thinking that it seemed like a movie I'd seen before, like last year's Plus One or the Winona-Keanu pairing Destination Wedding. Those comparisons aren't entirely inappropriate, but Palm Springs blends the familiar story of two lonely souls finding each other at another couple's wedding with a clever spin on a different movie trope. 

Produced by the Lonely Island and directed by Max Barbakow, the initial scenes of Palm Springs introduce Andy Samberg as the disaffected Nyles. His attitude can easily be explained away by all sorts of factors: He's at a wedding where his vapid girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) is a bridesmaid, and he seems to be a borderline alcoholic. Over the course of the night, Nyles gets up to all sorts of mischief that seems slightly askew. He grabs the mic away from the bride's sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and gives a bizarrely passionate speech about love. He seems to anticipate everyone's dance moves. He knows his girlfriend is about to cheat on him. Eventually he and Sarah, herself a miserable soul, connect and start to hook up. That's when things get really weird. A man in army gear (J.K. Simmons) emerges out of the desert and tries to shoot Nyles with arrows. A magic cave appears, which Nyles then crawls into, Sarah following behind even though he's screaming at her to get away. 

And then the day starts over. Not just for Nyles, but for Sarah too. Yes, this is a Groundhog Day/Happy Death Day/Russian Doll type situation, except in this case, Nyles has resigned himself to life in this infinite time loop so wholeheartedly that his old life begins to slip away. It's Sarah's presence that is disrupting the state of inertia he has lulled himself into, a single, repeated day of drinking countless beers, eating burritos, and experimenting sexually. Sarah, naturally, is enraged and intent on finding away out of this nightmare, be that through death or something else. As you might expect in a rom-com, being together in an eternally repeating day is a recipe for falling into something that looks like love.

Time loops have gotten a lot of mileage as of late, and I'll admit that I groaned a little when I figured out that's where this was going. But Palm Springs builds on the concept's legacy by using it to examine negotiations between two people instead of a path for self-betterment. Samberg's goofiness translates well to the high concept, but he's often underrated as a romantic lead and sells Nyles' transformation. It helps that he has a perfect match in Cristin Milioti, an actress who is persistently underrated. She makes Sarah both boisterous and secretive. Whereas Nyles has long made peace with the dirtbag he is, Sarah uses this opportunity to better herself. 

There are places where Palm Springs' experiments with tropes veer into the familiar, and its third act reveal will likely rub people the wrong way. But the reason the movie has engendered such love on the ground in Park City is that it nails its punchlines, most of which are visual, though there's a bit about watering dog shit that killed me every time. It's what you would expect from the Lonely Island guys, but the script is from Andy Siara who has worked as a writer on the similarly cerebral Lodge 49

It's fitting then that even Palm Springs' big acquisition deal came with a joke attached. To become Sundance's most expensive sale ever, someone had the brilliant idea to add an extra 69 cents to the end of its $17,500,000 sum. A nice amount for a nice movie. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.