In the Loop: Palm Springs

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Palm Springs (2020, directed by Max Barbakow)

  • Time until the loop begins: Less than one minute or about 13, depending on how you want to count
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: Mysterious cave
  • Number of time loops: 24 in the movie (but possibly more because of montage)
  • Lessons learned: Messy people deserve love too.

In the Loop logo

When we first meet Nyles (Andy Samberg), he’s already been trapped in this time loop for a while. He’s bored by his vapid girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner), and mostly spends his time trying to find new and inventive ways to cause chaos at the wedding he’s stuck repeatedly attending. The bride’s sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is stuck in a different way, even before she’s pulled into the time loop. She’s the “bad” sister — the screw-up, the mess, and her family members have a hard time seeing her anything other than that.

It’s easy enough to say that time loop movies are very much about being stuck, about repeating patterns, but Palm Springs makes the case that Nyles and Sarah were already failing to move forward in their lives even before getting trapped in a time loop.

Samberg and Milioti have such delightful, expressive faces that make the broader moments of the comedy work. They have such quirky chemistry with each other and it feels like their characters would’ve found each other anyway, even without experiencing the time loop together. Their relationship initially seems less like love and more just companionship out of a certain amount of compatibility and boredom but it works.

But Nyles points out during a bad moment, the pain they cause still matters. Other people may not remember what happens but they do.

Because yes, Sarah is the “bad” sister and a twist part of the way through is the reveal that every morning, she’s waking up in her sister’s fiance’s bed. She’s basically experiencing one of her worst moments again and again.

Much like The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, I was wondering why this movie wasn’t about Sarah and why we didn’t get more of her story. She starts avoiding Nyles and disappearing during the day and the movie suffers without Milioti’s presence. Instead, Nyles just mopes around and pouts for a number of days.

There are parts of this that don’t quite work. While some of the parts with J.K. Simmons’ Roy are fun, it feels like much of that was too much of a diversion into more conflict (time loop movies already have enough!). The conclusion to just have Roy drop a wisdom bomb on Nyles late in the movie is also unnecessary. Those themes were communicated elsewhere.

Also, while it settles down after a bit, the movie initially leans too hard on “This is a raunchy adult comedy!” I don’t object to sex jokes (although I do think the movie is a bit cruel toward Misty) and certainly, I want more R-rated rom-coms, but this movie’s shifts in tone don’t work.

As it turns out, Sarah was spending her days learning science and trying to figure out a way out of a time loop. I do have to say that’s a much better use of time than just pouting like Nyles did. It’s that Sarah actually actively wanted to become a better person and knew it wasn’t just going to happen through trial and error. She wasn’t going to be the screw-up sister anymore.

(Nyles went on a bit of his own journey, sure, but it’s a bit too much of “the love of the right woman solves my problems” for it to be effective. I am glad he decided he, too, wanted to move on, though.)

Palm Springs ends with Nyles and Sarah out of the loop, but we don’t really get to see what their future is or if they have one together. But it’s really sweet that they wanted a better future, or, honestly, any future at all.

(Side note: When I asked my friend Sarah if she’d design a logo for this for me, she told me “I just finished watching Palm Spring!” and so it was fate.)

Next week on June 1: About Time

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.