It’s a tad surprising that Groundhog Day did not immediately spawn cheap ripoffs. It was not the first time loop story, but certainly the most famous and successful. It was decades before we got the action time loop Edge of Tomorrow, or the teen sex romp time loop Premature. Palm Springs is the kind of sophisticated extrapolation of Groundhog Day one would hope for in its aftermath. It premieres on Hulu July 10.
‘Palm Springs’ knows how to explain a time loop
Groundhog Day had to show Bill Murray live through the day the first time. Then it could play with the events that repeat. Palm Springs trusts that the audience is familiar with such a scenario. So it can start in media res, although you don’t realize it’s been in the middle until the end of act one.
Palm Springs begins as a wedding comedy. Cynical guests Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) escalate the reception shenanigans. When Roy (J.K. Simmons) shoots Nyles with an arrow (this sort of absurdity makes more sense as the film goes on), he crawls to a cave so he can reset. This time, Sarah follows him into the cave and gets trapped in the time loop too.
Once Nyles’ day repeats, the audience can become comfortable with the Groundhog Day scenario. When we witness Sarah’s day, Palm Springs offers dual perspectives on a time loop. Each subsequent day makes the wedding hilariously worse, but Palm Springs starts out pretty far past Groundhog Day. It’s less about Sarah learning the format, and she tries killing herself much sooner than Murray did.
Palm Springs is not Punxsutawney
Groundhog Day was trapped in the quirky town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Without the quirky town, Nyles and Sarah can be a bit more depraved. Two people repeating the time loop together can have different kinds of fun with the regular folks for whom it is still the first version of the day. The tag team aspect gives Palm Springs different opportunities for comedy.
Sarah gets gleefully unhinged while Nyles gets more reflective. They go through a real journey in the repeats of the wedding day, because two people remember what has happened before. Their reality moves forward so they have to deal with the things each of them did on previous repeats. As soon as someone remembers, you have accountability you didn’t have when every day was a do over.
Seizing the day
Time loop stories are always about learning from one’s mistakes. In the wish fulfilment scenario, you truly do get a do over for mistakes you made. Palm Springs adds the responsibility Nyles bears for ensnaring others. The film also addresses what happens when too loopers desire different outcomes.
It’s also interesting that Nyles had a relationship with Sarah before she started repeating the day with him. The Sarah he encountered over and over on the wedding day is very different than the Sarah who knows this time loop phenomenon exists, and behaves differently with this knowledge. Both characters have to reconcile with that.
Perhaps it is best that Palm Springs waited 27 years. Now, people are so used to Groundhog Day and they’d accepted a few other alternatives. Palm Springs would have been just as distinct had it come out in 1994. There’s still plenty of time to watch it on repeat on Hulu.