Palm Springs (2020)
Director: Max Barbakow
Screenwriter: Andy Siara
Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin
There is a montage that takes place at around the 37th minute of Palm Springs in which the co-leads enjoy limitless, guilt-free action, the sequence working as a narrative device to illustrate how the pair are getting closer, and how we should be feeling closer to them. It is at this moment that the film asks “are you in or are you out?” regarding its relatively lofty concept of a looped timeline romance, your answer to this question either opening the door to a melty love story between two eternally bonded twenty/thirty-somethings or having the door shut firmly in your face, leaving you to wonder whether the next hour or so is even going to be worth your time. For those who board the train, there is joy and meaning to be found in this Max Barbakow directed and Andy Siara written feature, but for those not willing to give themselves over to the film in this moment, Palm Springs may very well feel like another cheap replica of better movies that you’ve seen already.
Produced by Party Over Here, the production company founded by lead star Andy Samberg’s parody music group The Lonely Island, Palm Springs is surprisingly a much more down to earth and in many ways standard rom-com than one might expect from a film associated with a group known for releasing songs like “I Just Had Sex”, “Motherlover” and “D*ck in a Box”, even as a film exploring timeloops and the existentialism that comes with it. There are moments, just as there are with any rom-com, where Palm Springs has the potential to break out of its mould and offer something fresh or even challenging, but despite taking obvious inspiration from a number of sci-fi leaning big screen romances, this film doesn’t seem willing to shed its modern romantic comedy skin, reverting to trope after trope while forgetting about narrative strands and running gags just as willingly.
On the surface, Palm Springs shares many similarities with the Mark Duplass starring duo of early 2010s films Safety Not Guaranteed and The One I Love, the former in particular acting as a strong comparison piece on how to deliver such an outlandish concept via the means of a standard love story. Unfortunately, this doesn’t paint Palm Springs too favourably, the 2020 release having its moments but ultimately failing to capture its atmosphere as effectively as the Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) directed 2012 film or even sustain the same level of intrigue surrounding its conceptual pursuits. It’s not that Palm Springs is bad – as Safety Not Guaranteed is one of the more impressive films of its type released in recent years – it’s more that this comparison serves as an indicator as to where this release could have gone had it had the foresight and creative direction to do so.
Palm Springs actually starts like a modern Netflix rom-com – that being of a relatively expensive but uncreative aesthetic with little by way of meaning regarding camera movements and edits – and evolves from there into something Safety Not Guaranteed adjacent, landing somewhere in the middle of the two in terms of quality. It will make you smile, and there are moments that will ignite your imagination, but ultimately Palm Springs isn’t made to challenge you or to bring forth any repressed emotions, it is a film made to be a good time and seems to actively pursue the many hallmarks that films of its type have presented in pursuit of the same goal. It has lovable, young and attractive leads (Cristin Milioti acting alongside Samberg), a guest star people seem to be fans of (J.K. Simmons), a number of scenes or shots that will likely be shared across social media ad infinitum, and just enough by way of concept and narrative intrigue to maintain your attention should you not be put off during its first third.
Palm Springs is, ultimately, a film that had grand visions of something greater than what it ultimately became – lines directly lifted from genre-topper Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind offering the greatest example – but that’s not to mean that it doesn’t hold value, this Andy Samberg star vehicle being the kind of enjoyable throwaway fun that will likely become a staple of many people’s easy-watching collections, a film that some will use as a blanket to comfort them during hard times and others will use as noise in the background while they clean the house. This isn’t Eternal Sunshine nor is it Safety Not Guaranteed, it’s not even The One I Love, but depending on your sensibilities Palm Springs can be thoroughly enjoyable and forever rewatchable nonetheless.