Rated R. It's got a lot of drinking. I think Andy Samberg is always holding some kind of alcohol through the movie. Okay, except when he wakes up. There's sexuality throughout. There's some actually pretty intense violence in the story. I mean, with all of these elements, you know that there's some language as well. Oh, a goat dies a pretty horrible death, thankfully off-screen. But, you know, this is all R-rated fare.
DIRECTOR: Max Barbakow
I was super excited for this to be good and it was! (I have lost all sense of writing hooks. I just say what I feel and it is published for the Internet to see.) There are few things that I like more than good time travel comedies. Okay, they don't really have to be comedies, but really well done time travel is something that makes me really excited. In recent years, there have been a handful of movies that have attempted to remake Groundhog Day. Some movies work better than others. To a certain extent, these movies live or die based on how the time loop is resolved. God bless, Groundhog Day because they established the trope, so their escape clause is the one that works the best. Groundhog Day never bothered to try to explain why there was a time loop, but we all know that when Phil Connors became a good human being, he was able to leave the time loop. The problem for the copiers? They can't have people exit the same way. While Groundhog Day may have done the heavy lifting for the formula, it also left a void for the solution. After all, you can't do the same thing twice.
Palm Springs works because it is hyper aware of its major challenge. It can go the way of Edge of Tomorrow and give a massive sci-fi answer. Or it can actually think of the problem and offer something new. I want to dance around this and write 10,000 words leading up to the ending of the film, but I'm just going to come out and say it: having Sarah becomes an expert on time travel is the smartest ending that I've ever seen for a film. I remember reading some interview with Harold Ramis while he was making Groundhog Day. I think he implied that Phil Connors spent tens of thousands of years in his time loop and we only saw snippets of the entire thing. When The Good Place finale happened, I remember being wildly depressed with the concept that eternity, by its very existence, would be soul crushing. Regardless of how happy an eternity could be, the notion of mental and spiritual immortality would ultimately be more of a burden than a joy. The end resulted in something that really dipped its toes into the euthanasia debate, probably more than I was comfortable with. But Palm Springs exists in a post-Good Place world. It took Harold Ramis's really dark backstory for Groundhog Day and the philosophy that The Good Place offered in its finale and really thought about what true immortality would look like.
There's something truly amazing about the era we live in for popular culture. (Popular culture and art thrive in eras of turmoil and oppression.) I can preach Groundhog Day and The Good Place all day, but Palm Springs also owes a bit to the Lord and Miller masterpiece, The Last Man on Earth. There's something truly joyful about the lovable loser being stuck with complete freedom against his will. There's no alternative for these characters. These are people who have been trapped by the knowledge that society has rules. When given freedom to do anything they want, they become the weirdest form of the terrible person. The concept of morality and ethics, free of a God who has written a moral code into the fabric of the universe. The response to a world without purpose and consequence is to do everything that meets one's whims.
Now, this can get to a really dark place. Palm Springs kind of touches on this. Nyles does about everything he wants to do. He's depressed at the beginning of the film and has sex almost out of expectation to do so. He loathes Misty, so this moment is more bleak in context. Bless the director for starting Nyles well into his time-loop, by the way. I don't need to have the characters coming to grips with the idea that time has no meaning anymore. Everyone else does that. I don't need to see Uncle Ben die again. But think about Nyles's moral code. He still does things that are pretty much awful. He sleeps with everyone he can. He ruins weddings and is in a constant state of drunkenness. Yet, he still has some degree of moral code. Now, I can't prove that Nyles didn't do this in some version of the timeline. After all, we know that he's been injured enough to be put in the ICU. We also know that he's attempted suicide multiple times. But it really seems like Nyles chooses not to hurt people simply to hurt people. When Sarah discovers that in some versions of the time-loop, they had slept together, Nyles unveils his moral philosophy. He understands that, even though there are no consequences for his actions, choosing to hurt another human being. As goofy as Nyles is and worthy of judgment as he appears to be, Nyles is actually pretty evolved. The movie actually teases the elements from the film that Nyles has been in this time loop for an unfathomable amount of time. Yet, he is the kind of guy who has given himself rules.
The movie, while funny, outwardly seems like a pretty pessimistic situation. After all, both protagonists have attempted suicide in the hopes that they can escape the hell that is repetition. But the fact that given possible centuries of repetition, Nyles understand that everything has value, despite lacking consequence. He's not free from temptation or breaking his own rules. He's not God, by any means. But he understand that even repetition deserves some degrees of respect. The movie even tackles the uncomfortable elements that Passengers tried to attempt. Nyles, while ultimately on the side of angels, does some horrible things. Roy, perhaps part of Nyles's dark night of the soul, tricks him into immortality. It's weird the dynamic between these characters. Nyles still comes across as the hero of immortality, despite his abuse of the system. Roy, although deserving to want vengeance, is the antithesis of Nyles. Filled with cruelty, Roy's repetitive bloodlust shows the potential that this repetition provides. But to confirm the ultimately optimistic view of humanity, even Roy grows. Sure, it's because Nyles has a vulnerable moment. But still, he learns to appreciate what he has, not what he has lost. And Nyles actually has a greater investment in aging. Not seeing his daughter age is kind of a thing. That's a dark thought. But then he also gets to have his family, forever, on a good day. That's fantastic.
I actually have a Palm Springs time travel question. No one will answer it because no one read this far. But Nyles and Sarah have a great day together. In the course of the day, Sarah falls asleep, but Nyles stays awake. Sarah wakes up. Where is she? You can invert the characters. Do the characters have to be asleep on the same day? Will Sarah reset to a previous version of the character that wasn't in the timeloop? I'm very confused by this and I need answers.
Anyway, I really liked this movie. Groundhog Day will always be Groundhog Day. I will love that movie forever. But I loved that this movie took the premise, but stayed away from the the tone and message of the original film. These are copies without the laziness that could come with it. It's a great formula, but the story has room to grow.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.