Hulu’s new comedy Palm Springs is the perfect movie for this moment
At some point in Hulu’s new original comedy Palm Springs, an unnamed character waters some dog excrement. Like, with a watering can.
It’s indeed hilarious and is played solely as such, but it carries some latent symbolic meaning. It frequently feels like much of our own collective time right now is filled with nonsensical, displaced efforts to better our world, which seems to decompose more and more in spite of them.
The new Hulu movie is well aware of what this funny moment – just one in a slew of others – means in a grander context, taking care to counter many of its funny beats with gut punches of postmodern ennui.
The rom-com, led by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, cleverly presents the idea that we’re all trying to make sense of a world that forces us to personally define ourselves by our transgressions. By engraining this 2020 sensibility throughout the punchy script and eagerly trusting the performances of its two leads, Palm Springs might just be the perfect movie for this moment.
On the night of her sister’s summer wedding, self-proclaimed family liability Sarah (Milioti) meets bridesmaid boyfriend Nyles (Samberg), who weirdly seems to be able to predict many of the night’s occurrences – maybe that’s the cocktails talking. It’s, um, absolutely not, as their night gets weirder in the blink of an arrow to the back.
All of a sudden, Sarah finds herself following Nyles, despite his pleas for her not to, into a light pulsating from a cave that restarts the wedding day. After a confrontation, she realizes that she has been sucked into a time loop, of which Nyles has been a part for quite some time.
Earlier this year, Palm Springs made industry waves after Neon and Hulu purchased the film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the most expensive deal in the festival’s history – in true Lonely Island fashion, just 69 cents more (nice) than the now-runner-up.
On paper, it makes sense. The movie has a lot going for it: co-produced by one of the most in-demand comedy groups, a well-tailored cast, the perfect running time (all movies should be 90 minutes!). It’s practically bot-created for streaming and/or theatrical release, a near-perfect moviegoing experience. But even though going to the movies isn’t yet a thing, at least for the time being, its accomplishments still blast through the (TV, computer) screen.
Its biggest (and, frankly, most rewarding) draws are Samberg and Milioti – a duo who keep the “incredibly likable rom-com couple” ball, found recently in movies like The Big Sick and The Spectacular Now, swiftly rolling. Samberg essentially plays the opposite of Hot Rod’s Rod Kimble.
Nyles has met his fate face-to-face and decided to retreat, and his relaxed nihilism and ambivalence about the past give way to the film’s most hilarious and vulnerable moments. Samberg does an excellent job keeping Nyles from straying into, as one character calls him, genuine “sad boy” territory by staying charming, playful, and elusive at the same time.
As for Milioti, well, the writing is on the wall for her to be an incoming household name. She plays every moment in her character’s arc, big and subtle, to nuanced perfection. Sarah maneuvers between fierce determination, sarcastic disbelief, heartfelt empathy, and crazed comedy fairly quickly, and you don’t doubt Milioti for a second of it.
Andy Siara’s script provides Palm Springs‘ supporting characters the opportunity to take mouthfuls out of some great bits as well. Most notable is J.K. Simmons’ Roy, another wedding guest who plays a key role in the story’s resolution (what can’t Simmons do?) Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, and Dale Dickey all do solid jobs with their characters, but I have to give a shout out to chaotic Internet funnyman Conner O’Malley, a really smart casting decision representative of Allison Jones’ mastermind at work.
It’s incredible that we’ve gotten this far into the review without mentioning Palm Springs‘ filmic brother-in-arms, Groundhog Day. Luckily for us, this movie is wonderfully self-aware of its relation. Nyles even bluntly describes the circumstances early on as “one of those infinite time-loop situations you might have heard about.” What most prominently sets Palm Springs apart from the Bill Murray-led 1993 comedy is movie magic – whereas love is posited as reason enough to be able to escape the time loop in the former, Palm Springs feels that such a pleasant depiction of togetherness, companionship, and even monogamy are simplistic platitudes.
Also of note: Andie MacDowell’s optimistic Rita more or less exists to serve the larger purpose of cynical Phil Connors’ own self-actualization. Nyles and Sarah seem to be extensions of a very similar character type whose dynamics are explored throughout their equally-active plotlines.
But Palm Springs is most important, aside from its belly-laugh-inducing raunch, for its surprisingly deep outlook on life’s current meaning, presenting numerous theories about dealing with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The latter half of the film suggests that it’s sensical to want to stay in a consequence-free loop of the same day over and over again, considering all the worsening things going on in, you know, life. But being human, for whatever reason, necessitates meaning, stakes, love, and consequences, good and bad. Palm Springs expertly concludes that if we could separate ourselves from life, we’d lose a lot of bad, to be sure, but sooner or later, we’d lose all the good, too.
Check out Palm Springs on Hulu right now, and let us know what you thought in the comments!