Skip to main content

It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about.

Palm Springs
(2020)

(SPOILERS) How hard must it be to screw up a time-loop movie? Maybe it’s simply that I’ve limited myself to the superior ones, by and large, but the concept does seem to bring out the best in those running with it, even as they’re often – inevitably – following through variations of the same riffs, be they tragic or comic or a blend of the two. Palm Springs has drawn more overt comparisons with Groundhog Day than some of the purer SF takes because it is more demonstrably in the comedic realm, and also because its makers have invoked the Bill Murray-starrer through referencing the ways in which they’re departing from that template. This onus to be distinctive ultimately softens Palm Springs’ philosophical/thematic impact, but it also results in a more successful balancing act between its (ultimately) romantic leads.

And the movie has deservedly received a positive critical response, even if we’ll never know how it might have fared at the box office (a sleeper, most likely). Inevitably, at this stage in the time-loop subgenre, the distinguishing features, those that separate any new picture from its antecedents, become important. Most recently, the Happy Death Days offered smart and funny plays on the slasher movie. It looks as if this year’s Boss Level is having fun with the indestructibility aspect via ultra-violent action spectacle. Palm Springs finds Nyles (Andy Samberg), perhaps millennia into his loop, entirely resigned to its unchanging routine, give or take the occasional horrific demise at the hands of vengeful Roy (JK Simmons, typically superlative), an individual Nyles unwisely invited into the loop during his earlier, more impetuous days.

The action revolves around the suitably oasis-like titular resort, where Nyles is attending wedding celebrations with girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner), who is cheating on him; every day for him is the wedding of Tala (Camila Mendes) and Abe (Superman Tyler Hoechlin). Nyles doesn’t care about the girlfriend situation, just as he doesn’t care about anything anymore (“The only way to really live within this is to embrace the fact that nothing matters”); you know, it’s a metaphor for disenfranchised, nihilistic youth (or the early middle aged). Or something. His situation changes crucially when fellow attendee Sarah (Cristin Milioti) follows him into the loop (sourced in a magical cave).

She wants out – as we eventually learn, she cannot face waking up each morning with the bridegroom, her sister’s husband-to-be – and won’t be put off by Nyles’ blithe stoicism. Indeed, the most refreshing part of Palm Springs is Nyles’ indifference to this eternal lot. Albeit, indifference in a very “Do no harm” way; as we discover, he isn’t into retribution the way Roy is, or causing mass carnage, or particularly hurting people at all. Which is why he regrets letting slip to Sarah “Oh please, you fucked me a thousand times”, having previously told her he couldn’t recall if they’d slept together. As he warns, “We remember. We have to deal with the things we do”. But this flawed stir and repeat is, to him, better than “A world of death and poverty. Debilitating emotional stress”.

I’d read reviews suggesting the picture really takes flight with its wackier elements: dinosaurs; a bomb in a cake. But it’s actually relatively grounded in respect of its conceit, closer to Happy Death Day in opting to keep its eye on the prize. The anecdotal extravagance is often better than the visual (Nyles relating how he once “smoked a lot of crystal and made it all the way to Equatorial Guinea”). The most notable detours come via Roy (“Keep running, shitbird. I will always find you”), at one point sandwiched between a couple of vehicles by Sarah as he attempts his latest mutilation of Nyles. This intervention rather charmingly leads him to reconsider his Nyles-murder rampage, reflecting on the suggestion that “There’s nothing worse than slowly dying in the ICU”. The scene where Nyles, now bereft without Sarah, visits Roy in Invie is a rather sweet illustration of the acceptance of one’s lot (“This was always a good day, you know”), even if it culminates in an immolation for old time’s sake.

Palm Springs occasionally teeters into unnecessary crudity (you notice it when it’s there, ejaculating penis tattoos and all, as it has been doing very well without such crutches, thank you very much). There’s also an undoubted tendency to fall back on the old favourite of the montage sequence as a prop (on the other hand, the musical cues are occasionally inspired, such as Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting). But crucially, Samberg and Milioti have bags of energy and great chemistry (Groundhog Day’s one demerit is that Murray and McDowall had none) and the arid, isolated desert setting of director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara’s movie is a crucial character in itself.

Naturally, it’s a key to Palm Springs that two lost souls find each other, but I think Barbakow and Siara rather do their material a disservice by overtly disavowing any kind of spiritual resonance. At one point early on, Nyles proclaims himself the Antichrist, suggesting responsibility for an earthquake he knows is coming (“I’m just kidding. There is no God”). He goes further, mocking the idea of greater meaning in their experience (“It could be purgatory, or a glitch in the simulation that we’re both in; I don’t know”). He’s also quick to dismiss concerns over Sarah’s state of mind (putting it down to fear of nanotech is one suggestion). So it makes sense that the movie has nothing more on its mind vis-a-vis the meaning of life than two people being together, particularly two people who scoff at the very notion of such meant-to-be bliss And the rather prosaic solution to their temporal situation? Sarah calls upon “science” and blows up the cave.

None of which ultimately detracts from Barbakow and Siara’s movie being short, sweet and very funny. Any suggestion of a sequel with JK Simmons (which would surely be glorious) appears halted in its tracks by his mid-credits appearance, but it’s nice that they remembered him. Palm Springs has rightly received attention on the awards circuit, albeit mostly from those who recognise comedy as a distinct category. Which is unfair, as it’s better written and performed – and perhaps even more meaningful, notwithstanding the previous paragraph – than most of the “so-worthy” fare receiving the plaudits this season.

Popular posts from this blog

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

If this were a hoax, would we have six dead men up on that mountain?

The X-Files 4.24: Gethsemane   Season Four is undoubtedly the point at which the duff arc episodes begin to amass, encroaching upon the decent ones for dominance. Fortunately, however, the season finale is a considerable improvement’s on Three’s, even if it’s a long way from the cliffhanger high of 2.25: Anasazi .

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

Out of my way, you lubberly oaf, or I’ll slit your gullet and shove it down your gizzard!

The Princess and the Pirate (1944) (SPOILERS) As I suggested when revisiting The Lemon Drop Kid , you’re unlikely to find many confessing to liking Bob Hope movies these days. Even Chevy Chase gets higher approval ratings. If asked to attest to the excruciating stand-up comedy Hope, the presenter and host, I doubt even diehards would proffer an endorsement. Probably even fewer would admit to having a hankering for Hope, were they aware of, or further still gave credence to, alleged MKUltra activities. But the movie comedy Hope, the fourth-wall breaking, Road -travelling quipster-coward of (loosely) 1939-1952? That Hope’s a funny guy, mostly, and many of his movies during that period are hugely inventive, creative comedies that are too easily dismissed under the “Bob Hope sucks” banner. The Princess and the Pirate is one of them.

My hands hurt from galloping.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) (SPOILERS) Say what you like about the 2016 reboot, at least it wasn’t labouring under the illusion it was an Amblin movie. Ghostbusters 3.5 features the odd laugh, but it isn’t funny, and it most definitely isn’t scary. It is, however, shamelessly nostalgic for, and reverential towards, the original(s), which appears to have granted it a free pass in fan circles. It didn’t deserve one.

I think it’s wonderful the way things are changing.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989) (SPOILERS) The meticulous slightness of Driving Miss Daisy is precisely the reason it proved so lauded, and also why it presented a prime Best Picture pick: a feel-good, social-conscience-led flick for audiences who might not normally spare your standard Hollywood dross a glance. One for those who appreciate the typical Judi Dench feature, basically. While I’m hesitant to get behind anything Spike Lee, as Hollywood’s self-appointed race-relations arbiter, spouts, this was a year when he actually did deliver the goods, a genuinely decent movie – definitely a rarity for Lee – addressing the issues head-on that Driving Miss Daisy approaches in softly-softly fashion, reversing gingerly towards with the brake lights on. That doesn’t necessarily mean Do the Right Thing ought to have won Best Picture (or even that it should have been nominated for the same), but it does go to emphasise the Oscars’ tendency towards the self-congratulatory rather than the provocat

I’ve heard the dancing’s amazing, but the music sucks.

Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021) (SPOILERS) At one point in Tick, Tick… Boom! – which really ought to have been the title of an early ’90s Steven Seagal vehicle – Andrew Garfield’s Jonathan Larson is given some sage advice on how to find success in his chosen field: “ On the next, maybe try writing about what you know ”. Unfortunately, the very autobiographical, very-meta result – I’m only surprised the musical doesn’t end with Larson finishing writing this musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical, in which he is finishing writing his musical… – takes that acutely literally.

Who gave you the crusade franchise? Tell me that.

The Star Chamber (1983) (SPOILERS) Peter Hyams’ conspiracy thriller might simply have offered sauce too weak to satisfy, reining in the vast machinations of an all-powerful hidden government found commonly during ’70s fare and substituting it with a more ’80s brand that failed to include that decade’s requisite facile resolution. There’s a good enough idea here – instead of Charles Bronson, it’s the upper echelons of the legal system resorting to vigilante justice – but The Star Chamber suffers from a failure of nerve, repenting its premise just as it’s about to dig into the ramifications.