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.
I went to Groundhog Day, millenia ago – in one o’ them old fashioned multiplexes they used to have – I went to Groundhog Day but did not stay. I was one of those viewers actually hoping for Bozo comedy along the lines of Murray punching out Ned, scoffing cake to excess, electrocuting himself in the bath etc, etc. I never grasped what mystery Murray was supposed to solve to break the chain. I was not very bright. It’s interesting to consider the observations of those outside Murray’s Loop (there’s a pseudo-scientific theorem monkier ripe for in-joke seeding) – a seemingly normal man who took put a toaster in his morning bath apropos of nothing one day. Is Bill travelling through different dimensions, timelines? Say he inadvertently injures or kills a bystander. Did/Do (?) they have an independant existence or are they, like Murray, the same material reformulated over and over again? Effectively they are immortal. Freddy Pohl’s Tunnel Under The World, with it’s clear influence on Phil Dick (a Pohl-Phil bridge) is a quietly influential allegory. Too modest (I defer to more learned minds than my own to point out Pohl’s predecessors – the story that inspired Last Year At Marienbad, perhaps, whose name escapes me. The allegory sprouts boiler-plate, dials and chimneys and the odd-couple of magic and technology tentatively offer to do each other’s chores). Corollary for religious vision, political enlightenment or good old paranoid episode. All three varieties have in common revelation (ambiguous with respect to veracity) and ecstasy, as in ‘ex stasis’, stepping out of the mundanity of drudgery and seeing life afresh. I just remember Bill Murray dancing with Andie McDowell and everything being all right. Recovery from a psychotic breakdown? As appealling as Andie is, I think he was more likely headed ‘Memento’-wise, obsessively to document ‘his’ reality, and wander earth, seeking out fellow ecstatics, if any. There might be a Mr or Mrs Big who has figured out how to manipulate Murray’s Loop for fun and profit. They might be trapping hapless mugs in their own Loops (how’s you day, Ed? How are the mice?), or a Loop of greater design. Got yer ‘reality is determined by the numbers’ maj. versus minority dynamic. If creatures exist in another time, if our second is their week, it would be easy for them to escape our notice, place banana skins under our feet, etc. Maybe they eat you if you spot ’em, or fix an ‘accident’ for you. Andie McDowell was working for them, choke gasp – don’t you see, she works for the meeja – Saint Kevin McCarthy on the highway moment here. Ok, mystery, obsessives, revelations, rules, crucially – this is a Netflix series waiting to happen!