Andy Samberg becomes the latest “Saturday Night Live” alum to explore movie stardom with “Palm Springs,” a romantic comedy co-starring Cristin Milioti. If that career arc sounds familiar, so does most everything about this breezy “Groundhog Day”-esque premise, which casts Samberg as a guy repeating the same day over and over.
Palm Springs, on the other hand, takes after its hero, Nyles (Samberg): it’s more or less coasting. Nyles is a 30-something in Hawaiian shirt whose career or station in life I couldn’t really tell you because, in one semi-interesting swerve from the Ramis blueprint, he’s forgotten them. When the movie starts, Nyles is already far into the time-loop that’s become his life. He’s adjusted. He’s died many times. He’s even made an enemy, a guy named Roy whose role in the story I shouldn’t reveal, but whose casting—J. K. Simmons—more or less sums it up.
Granted, there’s nothing completely new under the sun — in this case, the hot desert sun — and there have been plenty of variations on this formula, including the Netflix series “Russian Doll.” Yet even making those allowances, this feels derivative almost to the point of distraction. And while its try-and-try-again exchanges can be pretty funny, the film feels as if it’s laboring to flesh out even the under-90-minute running time.
Palm Springs is receiving almost universal good reviews. Here’s a sampling of what movie critics are saying:
Rolling Stone: “… before you dismiss Palm Springs as Groundhog Day at a wedding, please realize that you’ll be watching this sneakily provocative romcom in a way the filmmakers never intended. The pandemic has made the idea of recycling the same day repeatedly with the same people (but this time with a mask) all too real.”
Time: “… the movie is so light on its feet that it never feels forced or didactic, even when it asks us to confront piercing truths about love and the elusive meaning of happiness”
Vulture: “The Hello Kitty–cute chemistry between Milioti and Samberg would verge on cloying if a few obvious revelations weren’t waiting in the wings to f— things up.”
Palm Springs is fine. But there are glimmers of something weird and interesting in this movie that made me crave a ballsier—funnier—endgame. Something about that whiz-bang montage of Nyles dying over and over, or those slight references Sarah makes to her past, make the movie feel like a rom-com hero: on the verge of missing out on every opportunity fate’s thrown its way. Palm Springs endeared me to Samberg and Milioti quite a bit, and that’s not nothing. The movie, though, doesn’t amount to much.