July 12, 2020

SHOWBUZZDAILY Streaming Film Review: “Palm Springs”


The borders between “movies” and “television” were already beginning to buckle pre-pandemic, thanks to Netflix and the desire of studios to release their product on as many simultaneous platforms as possible.  Now, of course, we’ve been 4 months without movie theaters, and the most optimistic view is that wide openings are still weeks if not months away.  Although blockbusters have been kept under lock and key for the return of full-price tickets, art-house movies (except for Sony Classics releases) transitioned fairly quickly to online distribution, including through “virtual cinemas” that allow a portion of the video-on-demand fee to go to local theaters.  They’ve been joined by some family fare and low-budget horror.  Recently, more mainstream releases have started to appear as well, especially through Universal, which has presented The High Note and The King of Staten Island.

The past 10 days have provided a new high-water mark for digital movie release.  First, Disney+ brought out the long-awaited recording of the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton, originally planned for theatrical presentation in 2021.  This past weekend gave us a trio of high-profile releases, all of which would have had at least some big-screen presence in normal times, including the Tom Hanks WWII adventure Greyhound (originally for Sony) on Apple+, and the graphic novel-based action thriller The Old Guard with Charlize Theron on Netflix.  Greyhound is intended for a niche that doesn’t include me (if the combination of Hanks and 1940s naval battles thrills you, don’t miss it), but The Old Guard would be notable even in a normal slate of action movies, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka with snap and seriousness.

The best of the group is Palm Springs, which was a sensation at Sundance and purchased at a record-setting price (the previous record was bettered by 69 cents) by a combination of the movie studio Neon and the streamer Hulu.  As events have transpired, only the latter has really been in a position to distribute the film (Neon does have it in a few venues, mostly if not all drive-ins), which is a boon to all of us at home.

Palm Springs is a time-loop comedy, and among the very smart decisions writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow have made is taking into account that we’ve all sen Groundhog Day.  That allows them to skip past all the exposition about just what’s happening to Nylles (Andy Samberg) at the wedding he’s attending as the unenthusiastic boyfriend of bridesmaid Misty (Meredith Hagner), and jump into the action when he’s already repeated that day many, many times.  So many, in fact, that when we meet him, Nyles is rather blase about the fact that he lives the same 24 hours on an endless loop.  That changes when he unintentionally pulls maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) into the loop with him.  It changes the flow of the genre, too, which instead of centering on one unique individual, gives us a team whose increasinglly complicated dynamics form the core of the story.

It would be unfair to disclose too much more about what happens after that, but Siara and Barbakow find room in their brisk 90 minute run time to touch on existentialism, quantum physics and fear of emotional commitment.  (Oh, and dinosaurs.)  They’re helped by a cast that couldn’t be more optimal.  Samberg’s career has been built on an amiable goofball persona, but he suggested he could go deeper in the 2012 indie Celeste and Jesse Forever, and his Nyles has brittleness and despair underneath his glib cheer.  Milioti has been circling stardom for a while, with meaty roles in the last season of How I Met Your Mother, Fargo and the “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror, and this is her breakout moment, taking over as the audience surrogate and bringing wild humor, anger and determination to Sarah.  There’s also JK Simmons, whose part shouldn’t be described, except to say it gives him room to show off his remarkable ability to veer from serious emotion to cartoon comedy on a dime.

Movies like Palm Springs are jigsaw puzzles, and cinematographer Quyen Tran, editors Andrew Dickler and Matt Friedman, and the production design by Jason Kisvarday and costumes by Colin Wilkes help to keep the intricate pieces in an order that makes the viewer feel as well as understand what’s happening at any given moment.

As its success at Sundance showed, Palm Springs didn’t need a pandemic to make an impression.  Now, however, just a few months later, there’s undeniably something extra about its themes of repetition, inability to compel change, and the mood swings that accompany a seemingly endless rut.  It would have been a film for any time, but its time is definitely now.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."