Last year, we gave two innovative multiverse twists on the well-worn time loop trope: the comic series Netflix Russian doll, and horror / comedy Happy Death Day 2 U (a continuation of 2018 Happy death day). One would think that there would not be many new veins to exploit in this sub-genre, but Palm Springs rise to the challenge, delivering a slyly subversive time loop tale, with a charming self-awareness that plays with audience expectations in a subtly surprising manner.
(Some spoilers below, but no major revelations.)
Screenwriter Andy Siara (Lodge 49) wrote a draft of the screenplay while still a student at the American Film Institute, although there are no science fiction-y time loop elements in this version. He said he was more inspired by Quitter Las Vegas than groundhog day. Finally, he reworked the script with the help of director Max Barbakow (Palm Springs is Barbakow’s first film), and Saturday Night Live alun Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) signed to star in the film. The film was presented at the Sundance Film Festival (pre-coronavirus) earlier this year and started a bidding war for distribution rights. Neon and Hulu ultimately paid $ 17.5 million for the rights – the largest contract to date in Sundance history.
According to the official premise: “When carefree Nyles (Samberg) and reluctant bridesmaid Sarah (Cristin Milioti, How I met your mother, Fargo) have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated when they find themselves unable to escape from the place, themselves or each other. “It is Saturday November 9 in an unspecified year (although this date fell last Saturday Nyles attended Abe’s wedding (Tyler Hoechlin, 7th Heaven) and Tala (Camila Mendes, Riverdale) with his younger girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner, Research group), who is one of the bridesmaids.
Meanwhile, Tala’s sister Sarah, as the black sheep of her family, mainly takes care of the nuptials by drinking a lot. (“It’s not good wine,” warns the bartender Daisy at the reception. “I don’t care,” Sarah replies.) She also forgot to prepare the traditional bridesmaid’s speech. That’s when Nyles intervenes, delivering a perfect toast to divert the attention of drunk Sarah. During the evening, this initial spark of attraction is reinforced and when Nyles reveals that Misty is cheating on him with Trevor (Chris Pang, Crazy Rich Asians), Sarah agrees to sneak with him for a connection.
That’s when things get weird. As Nyles undresses, a madman named Roy (JK Simmons, Homologue) shoots him with several arrows. A seriously injured Nyles fled to a nearby cave, urging a horrified Sarah not to follow him. But she does and finds herself sucked into a bright orange vortex – before waking up in the same bed as before. It’s Saturday November 9 again. When she confronts Nyles, he admits they are stuck in “one of those infinite time loop situations you may have heard of,” reminding her that he advised her not to follow him in the cave.
Palm Springs stands out from the start, because when we meet Nyles for the first time, he has already “wrapped up” for an indefinite period, but clearly long – long enough for him to have become cynically resigned to his fate to relive the same day ( and marriage) over and over and over. It also takes a page of Russian doll, in that several people are caught in the loop.
The strength of this approach is that we can experience the same day in a loop from different angles – and Nyles can watch Sarah work through all the different stages of dealing with her situation that he did, offering his comment “Been there, does that ”jaded along the way. Do you think suicide will close the loop? “I have done a lot of suicides, so much,” said Nyles, advising that she do it as quickly as possible if she wants to try it. “We cannot die but the pain is real. There is nothing worse than dying slowly in intensive care. When she returns home to Austin, Texas, she always wakes up in Palm Springs. “Once I smoked a bunch of crystal and went to Equatorial Guinea,” confesses Nyles. “It was a huge waste of time. ”
Ultimately, she returns to her philosophy that nothing matters and they might as well have fun spending endless days. And as with groundhog day, Nyles quickly realizes that he loves Sarah, the person who has made his infinite existence loop of time tolerable. But Palm Springs is not your typical rom-com morality story of becoming a better person to win the girl. Nyles and Sarah were damaged and unhappy before getting caught in the loop, and the second half of the film takes on a more bitter and serious tenor, as their facade of pretending not to care doesn’t start crumble. This is evident when Nyles chastises Sarah for a particularly cruel act against another character, whom she excuses because the day will simply restart anyway. “The pain is real,” he reminds her. And that means “what we do to others is important”.
In fictional science of the time loop, less is always more.
Can you really know someone if you don’t know anything about their past? What if you wake up every day and remember the pain you caused to someone you love? Or, maybe worse, what if you have had a pretty good life and you will never see how it all works out? The film explores all of these issues, to varying degrees, and takes us to unexpected emotional places in the process.
As for what caused the time loop in the first place, it has something to do with an earthquake during the wedding that reveals the mysterious cave with the bright orange light. Finally, Sarah takes advantage of the infinite loop to learn a little physics. It hypothesizes that the cave shelters a so-called “Cauchy horizon”: a theoretical point inside a black hole (beyond the horizon of events) where determinism collapses, and the past no longer determines the future.
It’s not a well-rounded (or scientifically accurate) explanation for a time loop, but it’s okay. Milioti told Vulture that in the initial cut of Palm Springs, Sarah delivers a three-minute speech explaining the physics behind what she and Nyles are experiencing, but it was cut in the final cut. “It was so long,” she said. “And even if that explains everything, they had all these projections for friends and family and they all said to themselves, ‘The speech is great, you don’t need it.’ In the science of the fictitious time loop, less is always more. (The explanation of physics-experience-gone awry in Happy Death Day 2 U was the weakest part of an otherwise entertaining film.) Just set the rules of the game and let the cause or origin of the loop remain a mystery.
I’m not a hardcore Samberg fan, but he gives a slightly acerbic performance as Nyles, and his strong chemistry with Milioti is ultimately what makes Palm Springs job. You will be attracted by lively and cleverly irreverent humor, but you will ultimately be won over by the considerable heart of the film.
Palm Springs is currently streaming on Hulu.
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