Palm Springs: this year’s entry in the Groundhog Day genre is a deft, satirical comedy with paradoxical hints of darkness and transcendence. There’s an unforced whimsy, with unheroic but likable characters. Everything unfolds at a languid rate, lobbing in more symbolic images than you can shake a can of beer at.
Palm Springs is deeply existential, frequently whacked, and somehow sweet. I enjoyed every minute.
I wasn’t expecting much from Palm Springs, to be honest. This was never on my ‘must-watch in 2020’ list. I’ve never even heard of it, and I make a point of following time looping Groundhog Day type movies.
What’s a Groundhog Day loop?
If you aren’t familiar with the filmatic conceit of a Groundhog Day loop, it’s named for the repeating day phenomena popularized by Bill Murray’s lovable curmudgeon in the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day. While Star Trek: The Next Generation did it first (See my review of episode Cause and Effect), Bill Murray did it loudest. And it’s been done many times since, putting Hollywood in its own repeating time loop. Not that I mind.
Wikipedia offers this brief explanation of time loop motifs:
A time loop or temporal loop in fiction is a plot device whereby characters re-experience a span of time which is repeated, sometimes more than once, with some hope of breaking out of the cycle of repetition.
As a viewer, you don’t have to understand the temporal misalignment. You just accept that it happens. There could be magic involved, or science, or just a glitch in the Matrix. Only on Star Trek do they bother to explain it, because the why isn’t the point.
The fun is seeing it unfold, and what the characters do when facing… infinity.
Welcome to today. Again.
It’s not a spoiler to say the main character in Palm Springs doesn’t jump through time alone; it’s the premise. But the plot looks squarely at the nature of existence. What is mortality? What is the purpose of humanity? It makes you wonder what you’d do with an unsolvable dilemma. Who do you do with your life after every way out is exhausted?
The characters even nod at all the other Groundhog Day movies. And no, suicide still doesn’t work. 😉
A few things making Palm Springs stand out from other time loop tales:
1. How the protagonists handled their endless predicament: differently than each other, and also different than other characters with infinite time problems.
2. The R rating. That’s new.
3. The scenery is essentially a character, and that’s damn cool too. If you’ve spent any time in Coachella Valley or Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll wax wistfully nostalgic. (You might even go for a road trip after our own time hiatus is over.)
Finally, there was something strange and magical at the finale that made me personally happy, but I won’t spoil it for you.
We’re lucky to have this new movie right now. Catch it at the drive-in if you can! A perfect sleeper hit.
Movie Grade: A+
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Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)