Palm Springs Review: The Lonely Island's Fresh Take On Groundhog Day

  • First Released Jan 26, 2020
  • movie

The Lonely Island deliver once again.

Palm Springs already set a record at Sundance when Hulu and Neon announced they had acquired the film for $17.5 million and 69 cents--which is 69 cents more than the previous record holder, The Birth of a Nation. This kind of irreverent yet clever sense of humor tells you everything you need to know about the buzziest comedy at the Sundance film festival.

The new film from The Lonely Island gang (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Brigsby Bear, Hot Rod) opens with Nyles (Andy Samberg), a slacker doofus stuck at a wedding in (you guessed it) Palm Springs, waking up every morning with his airhead girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner), who ends the day cheating on Nyles as the wedding celebration comes to a close. It's the last kind of situation Nyles would want to get stuck in, but he's forced to relive it day after day. That's right--this is yet another riff on Groundhog Day. But like many imitators of Bill Murray's 1993 classic, Palm Springs manages to pay homage while adding its own fresh twist with a particular style of humor that will make Lonely Island fans happy.

What makes the film special is that Nyles has been stuck in the time loop for an unspecified amount of time already when the movie begins. By the time we meet him, Samberg plays Nyles as a jaded, zero-f***s-left know-it-all who has forgotten what life outside of the loop looked like. Nyles already went through everything Phil Connors went through in Groundhog Day, which means the character begins the movie on the same page as the audience, and the movie gets to skip the more overdone tropes of the time loop subgenre. "It's one of those infinite time-loop situations you might have heard about," says Nyles at one point, perfectly summing up the way he thinks about the ordeal.

He's already tried to kill himself countless times and sleep with everyone (and I mean everyone) at the party, so now his goal is to "try and live my life with as little effort as possible," simply floating in the pool every day and wearing beachwear 24/7. Samberg infuses Nyles with classic Judd Apatow-tested, audience-approved douchery, while still keeping him relatable enough for us to root for him. The film also hints at a larger universe full of hilariously similar incidents.

Like Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Palm Springs grounds the most absurd of occurrences in reality by presenting over-the-top versions of common situations and scenarios. Like Popstar made Connor4Real just plausible enough to seem believable as a real-life pop star while still being totally over-the-top, Palm Springs somehow manages to make hallucinatory dinosaurs and the multiverse seem normal. Though not as crude or graphic as Popstar, this is still very much a raunchy comedy that will satisfy those wanting more Lonely Island antics.

The other way Palm Springs cleverly twists the Groundhog Day formula is by providing Nyles with company in his endless Palm Springs purgatory. When we meet him, he's giving a hilariously drunk yet moving wedding speech, but it's not long before he accidentally traps the bride's black-sheep older sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti) in the time loop with him--after she tries to save Nyles from a crazy archer named Roy (J.K. Simmons) who is hellbent on killing him (to say more would be a spoiler). Milioti serves as the perfect counterpart to Nyles; she's as much of an alcoholic mess of a misanthrope as him, and Milioti perfectly matches Samberg's comedic timing.

Director Max Barbakow makes his feature debut alongside writer Andy Siara, turning what could have easily been a tired rehash of old tropes into a hilariously irreverent and clever romantic comedy that also takes the time to serve as a metaphor for longterm relationships. Like Groundhog Day itself, Palm Springs sees Nyles and Sarah eventually start carving out their own little reality and growing as people, as they learn to mature, care about others, and appreciate the value of time and life. The film becomes an over-the-top expression of the feeling two people in love can have of being the only people in the world, while also exploring the sustainability of love and the moment two people settle into a tired routine.

The time loop story has been persistently repeated over numerous genres across the years, from Edge of Tomorrow to Happy Death Day. But the Lonely Island's Palm Springs tweaks the formula enough to deliver a hilarious and moving take that shows the concept isn't as tired as you might have thought.

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The Good

  • Great chemistry among the cast and two leads
  • Clever story full of twists and turns
  • Meaningful examination of the sustainability of longterm relationships
  • Colorful side characters, especially J.K. Simmons' bloodthirsty archer
  • Signature Lonely Island humor that will make fans happy

The Bad

About the Author

Rafael Motamayor is a recovering cinephile and freelance writer from Venezuela currently freezing his ass off in cold, grey, Norway. He likes writing about horror despite being the most scaredy-cat person he knows.