When all is said and done, does Palm Springs (2020) do all that much to set itself apart from its fundamental ancestor, Groundhog Day? Well, no, but it’s a winning, well executed example of the time-loop subgenre, introducing just enough playful wrinkles to earn a solid place in the canon. The story takes place at a desert wedding in Palm Springs, where care-free Niles (Andy Samberg) cute-meets troubled, quirky Sarah (Cristin Milioti). What Sarah doesn’t realize is that Niles is caught in a time-loop; he’s been experiencing the wedding over and over again, for so long he barely remembers his life from before it started. Circumstances, however, are about to change. When Sarah gets stuck in the timeloop with Niles, their mutual imprisonment in an endlessly repeating day connects them as friends, rivals, partners in crime, frenemies, and ultimately lovers, while also eventually forcing them to confront their inner demons.
Palm Springs may not have an original premise, but it approaches it from an effective new angle: starting mid-loop, providing two protagonists, and deconstructing some of Groundhog Day’s more toxic messaging. Samberg, after several seasons honing his man-child chops on Brooklyn 9-9, is in fine form here, and shares real chemistry with the delightful Milioti. The film has a breezy, perhaps disposable feel to it, but it actually bolsters its comedic foundation with a thoughtful, coherent theme. But mostly, it’s just legitimately funny, leaning into the humorous possibilities of its premise, including a well deployed subplot involving J.K. Simmons. As a riff on this idea, ultimately I don’t think it quite matches up to the richer, more interesting Russian Doll, but it’s still worth making time for thanks to a smart, efficient script and appealing performances from Milioti and Samberg.