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August 8, 2020

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Icon movie review: Palm Springs enters like a breath of fresh air

Clocking at 90 minutes, it is a fun romp that might make you think a little. If nothing else, it’s possibly the best direct-to-video movie we could have hoped for in quarantine

Around the world, people have been practicing varying levels of social distancing since March. Movie theaters closed in mid-March and in some cases have reopened slowly, but with a dearth of new films to offer customers. Major studio releases, particularly TENET, have been pushed back, or in limited cases movies like TROLLS: WORLD TOUR were released directly to Video-on-Demand (VOD).

The summer movie season has seen a drought of good new movies.

In this void, PALM SPRINGS enters like a breath of fresh air. Made as a collaboration of The Lonely Island (ANDY SAMBERG, et al.) and first-time director/screenwriter duo MAX BARBAKOW and ANDY SIARA, the film released exclusively on Hulu. 

PALM SPRINGS takes place in, well, Palm Springs, CA. In particular, it takes place at a destination wedding in which Nyles (SAMBERG) is a guest... who happens to have wandered into a time-loop and is doomed to repeat the same day again and again. Yes, it’s Groundhog Day all over again (ho ho!)

But the setup features one of PALM SPRINGS’ many clever wrinkles on this formula: the movie isn’t about Nyles in the time-loop – we learn early in the film that he’s been in it for a long time. Instead, the movie is about Sarah (CRISTIN MILIOTI) who accidentally follows Nyles into the time loop one night and now the two are traveling in the time-loop together. We later learn that a third person, Roy (J.K. SIMMONS), is in the time loop with them and he’s... not too happy about it.

The movie then cycles through the requisite time loop jokes that were done in Groundhog Day (think: what would you do if there were no consequences for 24 hours... even if dying weren’t a consequence?). SAMBERG and MILIOTI flirt and fall in love, but after a while all of that bores them. 

Then, the central theme of the movie comes into view: while a love story at its core, PALM SPRINGS is also a story about meaning and purpose. Nyles is convinced life in the time-loop is meaningless and the only thing you can do is try to be happy from moment to moment (Nyles, nihilism... get it?). Sarah on the other hand thinks life needs meaning, purpose, and something to look forward to; she tries very seriously to escape. 

In an interview, director MAX BARBAKOW said that he wrote the film when he felt like he was drifting through life without purpose. While written pre-coronavirus, the film now feels more germane to many of our experiences. The pandemic, in some ways, feels like a time-loop: without a clear end in sight, it can feel like each day is the same as the last. That alone makes PALM SPRINGS an appropriate viewing during quarantine.

On a technical level, PALM SPRINGS is surprisingly over-qualified. The film’s script is whip-smart and the pacing is excellent. The central performances by SAMBERG and MILIOTI are wonderful, particularly MILIOTI who steals scene after scene from the (typically) charismatically goofy SAMBERG. To SAMBERG’s credit, at moments throughout the film he demonstrates a dramatic range that he hasn’t previously shown in his previous work.

Clocking at 90 minutes, PALM SPRINGS is a fun romp that might make you think a little. If nothing else, it’s possibly the best direct-to-video movie we could have hoped for in quarantine.

Rating: 3 out of a possible 5.

-Reviewed by Wilson

PALM SPRINGS is rated R for sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some violence. 

Interested in watching this movie tonight? Here’s how:

Open the Hulu streaming platform on your streaming service provider (such as Smart TV, Roku, computer)

Search for PALM SPRINGS in the search bar. Select the video.

The film is free to watch with your subscription of Hulu.

The film is showing exclusively on Hulu.

Meet our movie reviewer
“Wilson” is an alias for this reviewer, taken from Wilson the volleyball in CAST AWAY (2000). Wilson has been an avid movie watcher for more than a decade, with hundreds of movies viewed in that time ranging from classics of American cinema to international and independent features. Wilson’s writing is inspired by the film criticism of Roger Ebert.