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Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Would you trust either of these jerks with your existential crisis?

dir: Max Barbacaw

2020

So, basically, we’ve seen enough variations on Groundhog Day, or enough variations have been done that it’s become a genre unto itself, fit for movies and tv shows, in any form. Person or persons get trapped in a loop and have to figure a way out of it.

The original movie had a guy be perplexed by his circumstances, fight against it by lashing out, try every form of suicide and crime, but eventually come to terms with it and become a better person, who then, when released from the loop, decides he’s going to stay in the place he was trapped in.

Some see it as a Buddhist story about reincarnation, some see it as a different philosophical or religious tradition pointing to a similar outcome, but ultimately it’s a story about a person getting multiple chances to get “it” right, however “it” is defined, and being set free, whatever that entails.

Palm Springs has the guy trapped already when we start; he’s been trapped for a long time, so long in fact that he doesn’t really give much of a shit about anything. It’s kind of the antithesis of what character work Groundhog Day tried to establish: instead of someone coming to realise what’s important in life from multiple goes around, he comes to believe that this perpetual November 9th at a wedding reception at Palm Springs means nothing means anything. Life is meaningless when you’re trapped in an unending loop. You learn nothing new, you do everything possible, but you don’t get better or worse, just bored.

It’s a pretty grim message. Nyles (Andy Samberg) does the same stuff Phil Connors does in Groundhog Day, as in he gets to know everything about everyone, and has sex with almost everyone, male or female, but it only brings him to a lower state of being, not transcendence. It doesn’t make him awful, it just makes him not care about stuff, or anything, other than drinking as much beer as he can.

Into this mix drops another person, being Sara (Cristin Milioti), who Nyles pretends to be chatting charmingly with for the first time, but you just know, based on the fact that he’s been here a long while, that they’ve probably hooked up before. But just before they hook up for the first time, someone appears out of nowhere, trying to kill Nyles, forcing him to crawl into a mysterious cave with a glowing light in it, that he keeps begging Sarah not to go into…

So. There are three people trapped in this infinite loop. Occasionally, that rude third Roy (the always glorious JK Simmons, who should be in everything always) will pop and try to kill Nyles, but mostly he just stays away. Nyles explains to Sarah that nothing they do matters as it will always eternally be reset no matter how long they stay awake or how far they drive. So the only thing to do is, do all the things they do, and not care about stuff.

That’s not exactly an exciting mission statement, but they do through her all the stuff that usually happens at the beginning of these loop stories, being the joy of embracing the “nothing matters” mantra, before the despair sets in.

And the despair does come, because every morning she wakes up in the same person’s room, and it’s not her own. And so no matter what she does in any given day, she’s reminded of what a fuckup she is, waking up in the same jerk’s room. And this will not stand, and this will not be something she can learn to live with. We don’t find out who that person is until halfway through the film, after Nyles and Sarah get closer, and it seems like she is close to just accepting that this is it, with him, for eternity.

But she cannot let it stand.

The mechanism in Groundhog Day was never explained. Maybe you can point to some benevolent universal force, or Punxsutawney Phil, being the groundhog itself, as some kind of time-controlling deity (as well as controlling the weather), but either way we’re never told, and the main character is never told what he has to do in order to get out. He just eventually becomes more empathetic and caring as time passes, to the point where the universe itself goes “okay, he’s learned his lesson”, and sets him free.

Palm Springs isn’t that kind of film. The lesson that the character or characters have to learn isn’t acceptance, or empathy, or being a better person, because the universe in this example is supremely indifferent to their efforts. They may become better people, or sadistic monsters, either way, the anomaly that’s trapped them in this state doesn’t care one bit. For which the mechanism isn’t whether the two main characters fall in love, or transcend their individual problems and become better people – it’s one of them having the motivation, and, eventually, the expertise in quantum mechanics, to figure out a solution and escape.

That makes it sound like a science fiction solution, and I would argue that it isn’t. I think it’s kinda played for laughs, but also it’s a bit of a maguffin, because it ultimately doesn’t matter what the solution is, because the ultimate point then becomes: so what if you got so hellishly use to an unchanging hell that, given the option to leave, you chose not to?

Now that is a question worthy of argument. Andy Samberg has made a career out of playing immature lunatics who are too cool for school, and too dorky to know otherwise, and he couldn’t be better for this role if he’d written the screenplay himself. Cristin Milioti and Samberg work well together both in the nuts drunken choreography and the more glib romantic comedy stuff that they mostly side-step.

This flick, unlike its predecessor, would not work with treacle, sap or corn. These characters aren’t selfish middle aged city yuppies who have to be redeemed through appreciating small town life: they’re reasonably young fuck ups who either need to get out or stay here forever and give even less of a shit than before.

The Roy character is a funny one, not Ha Ha exactly. He’s an older gent who Nyles, while fucked up on drugs, invites to the anomaly in the cave on purpose, only to see the man become enraged once he realises he can’t get free and is trapped eternally in the same day. But what Nyles eventually hits upon, even if it is through Roy, that even if other people don’t remember what Nyles does to them, or what Roy does to Nyles by killing and torturing him countless times, is that because they themselves remember, the damage itself doesn’t reset within them. It wears upon their souls.

Roy eventually comes to accept his place in life, and finds a way to appreciate that one perfect day, even if it means he doesn’t get to see his kids grow up. If you can appreciate the every day, well, it seems to feel less like an eternal prison, and more a zen way to not let the repetition of reliving the same goddamn fucking day over and over again drive you bonkers.

Which, you know, the makers of this flick couldn’t have known how goddamn relevant the movie would be when they were making it. They didn’t know, they couldn’t have known that so many of us were going to be trapped indefinitely in our own fucking homes for months at a time because of some invisible and unavoidable thing. That it would keep us trapped here. Repeating the same days. Again. And again. And that no amount of beer or gin would ultimately help. But its ultimate argument doesn’t become that acceptance of the prison will set you free – it’s the complete opposite of that. Sarah vows that she is not going to stand this hell of repetition, and finds a way that, if brave enough, will set them both free. And then it turns out he (Nyles) is more afraid of the uncertainty of breaking free, because then if his life persists in its mediocrity, he won’t have an infinite loop or a virus to blame for it.

Interesting stuff, couched as it in it what pretends to be a rom-com crossed with timeloop hijinks. It made me laugh a bunch of times. Definitely not a flick to watch with the kids around – it’s pretty filthy and wholesomely bisexual in oh so many ways. Probably my biggest laugh in the flick was watching a scene I won’t spoil, but with Dad of the Bride Peter Gallagher (and his magnificent eyebrows” asking “What are we doing?” as only he could.

What are we doing, people? Repeating the same stuff every day like rats in a maze, or only varying our routines in extreme ways just to feel something different for a while, before reverting to the same stable nothing? Is there something more? Surely there has to be.

Palm Springs. Funny stuff.

8 times there was even a sneaky Aussie in this wearing cowboy gear and swearing awfully out of 10

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“I guess you followed me. It's one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about.” – everyone’s heard about those – Palm Springs.

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