‘Palm Springs’: the Millennial Infinite Time Loop Movie

Andy Samberg and company say, “Find your Irvine”

I saw the Palm Springs movie. If you asked a graduate screenwriting class to compete to see who could write the best modern version of Groundhog Day, this would be the winning entry. Palm Springs, now streaming on Hulu, takes the premise of that all-time comedy classic, adds a rom-com twist, a dash of treacle, and a bit of sci-fi, and markets itself relevant to our pandemic age.

PALM SPRINGS ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Max Barbakow
Written by: Andy Siara
Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Peter Gallagher
Running time: 90 min

The film centers on Niles, played by Andy Samberg, a generic millennial man-child who becomes trapped in an infinite time loop after an earthquake opens up a rift during an upper-middle-class Palm Springs wedding. He relives the wedding day over and over again, mostly by floating on a pizza raft and, in the most annoying millennial quirk ever, drinking canned beer. Eventually and accidentally, he traps a middle-aged uncle type named Roy, played by J.K. Simmons, in his time-loop web. More significantly, Sarah, the sister of the bride (Cristin Milioti), follows Niles into the time-loop cave and becomes his partner in crime.

Palm Springs asks the important question: will two privileged 30somethings with minor emotional problems find happiness together in eternity? Sarah becomes the film’s main character as she goes through all the Bill Murray Phil Connors stages. She has meaningless sex, performs goofy stunts, and throws herself in front of a truck. The two time-loopers steal and crash an airplane. At least they don’t have a scene where they get into a bathtub with a live toaster.

The film has some decent gags, and one glorious 80s-style bar-dance scene that could have gone on twice as long. Several seasons on Brooklyn Nine-Nine has made Samberg very comfortable in the role of amiable goofball, and he plays a decent romantic lead. Milioti is best-known for her star-making role as the “Mother” in the otherwise lousy final season of How I Met Your Mother, for the amazing USS Callister episode in Black Mirror, and for playing Teresa Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. She is an excellent actress and she anchors Palm Springs in some semblance of emotional reality.

That’s Palm Springs’ major upgrade to Groundhog Day. It takes Andie McDowell’s character, gives her a personality, and includes her in the day-repeat antics. In most other ways, the film is a downgrade. Neither Niles or Sarah mention their work, their finances, or their last names. We learn that Sarah lives in Austin, because that’s where all millennials live if they don’t live in Los Angeles. She has a broken marriage and a drinking problem. Niles is the boyfriend of a whiny stereotype played by Meredith Hagner of Search Party, but has no other identifying characteristics other than his boogaloo-style Hawaiian shirt preference. Groundhog Day worked so well because Bill Murray was trapped in a crappy job in a freezing and decaying Pennsylvania town. His character was a misanthropist who needed to learn important truths.

Palm Spring
Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg find their Irvine in ‘Palm Springs’.

Palm Springs, on the other hand, takes place in a resort paradise with infinite access to beautiful desert. Its protagonists may need to learn a few lessons about romantic commitment and fidelity. But mainly their struggle revolves around getting out of the time loop. At one point Samberg goes to visit J.K. Simmons at his generic home in the Orange County suburb of Irvine. J.K. Simmons seems happy there with his wife and kids. He tells Samberg to “find your Irvine.” It’s a grating sentiment, devoid of context, that calls to mind Patricia Wettig telling Billy Crystal to “find your smile” in City Slickers.

In interviews about Palm Springs, Samberg has said that he’s gotten used to the monotony of his days in quarantine. His Irvine includes immense wealth, his beautiful and talented wife, and his young family. And good for him. Meanwhile, in the actual Irvine, tens of millions of people are unemployed, or sick, or making viral videos where they scream about masks. This infinite time loop has driven them crazy. The protagonists of Palm Springs aren’t Phil Connors. They aren’t everypeople. Once they escape Palm Springs, they can do whatever they want. But when the credits roll, most viewers are still in Irvine.

This concludes my review of the Palm Springs movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

4 thoughts on “‘Palm Springs’: the Millennial Infinite Time Loop Movie

  • July 16, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    That is 100% not Bonnie Hunt in ‘City Slickers’ my dude

      • February 28, 2021 at 10:50 pm

        Irvine is in (949) Orange County, not Riverside County. It’s a safe, boring, upper-middle class, master-planned community about 15 minutes from Newport Beach. It’s there in the movie to represent the milquetoast and insulated “perfection” of a predictable and idyllic life that master-planned Orange County provides.

        • February 28, 2021 at 11:30 pm

          Thanks for the correction. I will make the change. I just thought that the “find your Irvine” comment was a lot like “find your smile” from City Slickers from so many years before. Palm Springs is not a bad movie, but it’s a pretty gentrified comedy.


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