The concept of the time loop wasn’t original to Groundhog Day – the short film 12.01, later a feature, got there earlier if not first – but that movie established the rules of a sub-genre the way, say, Dracula established the rules of the vampire story. Pretty much every fantasy TV show since the early 90s has done a Groundhog Day episode – and the premise has become so embedded in pop culture that recent years have seen a run of inventive variants, including Russian Doll, the Happy Death Day films and the Twilight Zone episode ‘Try, Try’ (which serves as a pointed critique of a creepier aspect of Groundhog Day).
Directed by Max Barbakow from a script by Andy Siara, Palm Springs – in which an earthquake opens up a cave that somehow traps people in time loops – is a fresh, engaging, funny run-through that offers a revisionist take on the time loop romance of GD (though less sinister than in ‘Try, Try’) and also manages to be just a hell of a lot of bright-coloured, laid-back fun. We meet Nyles (Andy Samberg), in Hawaiian shirt and swim-shorts at a formal wedding, when he’s well into the cycle – intervening at an embarrassing pause to make a speech that saves unprepared maid of honour Sarah (Cristin Milioti) from disaster and allows the wedding of her sister Tala (Camila Mendes) and hunk Abe (Tyler Hoechlin) to go ahead.
Despite waking up every day next to his self-involved girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) – whom he knows will cheat on him after the wedding – Nyles has mastered the day already with that Bill Murray-like ability to breeze through avoiding disasters and knowing what people will say or do. He has tried infinite variations (including a gay hook-up amid a ton of hetero ones) and is stalked by a camo-smeared bowman (J.K. Simmons) who’s also in the loop, which leads to Sarah joining the replay gang. This means that the frictionless leads have to develop a real relationship but also face up to hard truths about themselves (Sarah has to wake up every morning after sleeping with Abe) before, as in all these dramas, a chance to move on is presented.
It has dinosaurs, very good jokes, smart supporting performances and leads who are so good that this ought to be the film that shifts them up notches into proper movie stars. I also love a tiny bit part old lady (June Squibb) who might just be quietly enjoying the loop without the drama the others are having – but also might be just daffy.