Do you ever just dive into watching something not knowing anything about it? I usually don’t. I’m the kind of person who likes to read a restaurant menu three times before I get there because I don’t want to be surprised. So for the hubs and I to hit “Play” on something sight unseen is unusual.
We looked at the cover for Palm Springs (Hulu Original), saw Andy Sandberg was in it (we’re huge Brooklyn 99 fans) and said eh, why not? We both fully expected it to be a romcom a la Forgetting Sarah Marshall style. Which we were both cool with and to some extent, it was that. It seemed like a total “troubled boy meets troubled girl” story based on the first few minutes. Then things got weird.
Going in with no clue the sci-fi turn this movie was going to take made that moment absolutely fantastic. And hilarious. (To be honest, I thought at first it was an undercover spy movie.)
But, in this one little movie, suddenly appeared some of my favorite tropes and theories explored in the genre:
- Time loops
- Quantum physics
- Portals/Alternate Realities
- Simulation theory
- Hallucinated dinosaurs
I was utterly overjoyed and surprised as this story started to unfold.
Groundhogs Day and That’s Okay
At its core, Palm Springs is Groundhog’s Day. The reliving of the same day over and over, desperate to get out of the monotony, isn’t a new concept by any means. In fact, it might even be a cliche device in the time travel genre, but I still loved it.
We all wish for more time or wish to freeze a moment, but the actual way that would play out would probably be miserable.
And for Andy Samberg’s character it was. Nyles (Andy) is stuck reliving a day where he’s attending a wedding with his cheating girlfriend. A day all of us could agree would likely not be the one we’d choose to do again and again and again.
Without spoiling it too much, he doesn’t get stuck there alone forever.
There were moments where I genuinely laughed. Truly heartwarming moments that almost had me crying (seriously). And just a fun sci-fi/romcom mashup that left me feeling as satisfied as I’ve been with a movie in a really long time.
The Heart-Filled Science Fiction in Palm Springs
I don’t even know that the makers would label this as sci-fi. There isn’t anything about it that is overtly futuristic or technologically advanced. No outer space or evil scientists, but it still hit some really great notes for me.
Obviously, the time-loop-causing-cave, is going to get me right through my little time-travel-loving-heart. I wouldn’t say that the reliving of the same day is a particular favorite of mine, but I really liked how they did it. The mystery of why this was happening, how they were trying to escape, and they’re lives outside the loop were dripped in very poetically in my opinion. We got to know each of them in small, sometimes hilarious ways. The main characters are fatally flawed , but the loop forces them to come to terms with each of their shortcomings. Even though the loop protects them from consequences, it doesn’t protect them from each other or themselves.
Though they don’t delve into a why or a how for the time loop, I love that it’s referenced at all. Anytime there is a nod to the very real science that lends evidence to the things often only relegated to sci-fi, I get a little excited.
So many of us watch/read this genre with a passive carelessness. We enjoy the imaginary and go for the fictional ride. But as I’ve come to learn, just about all sci-fi is rooted in very real theories and very exciting possibilities. It’s predictive and even the most outlandish concepts link to real-world science that raises interesting questions.
I like portal stories and theories. Dark (Netflix), Stranger Things, Stargate to name a few offer us these vibrant and horrifying worlds where someone merely enters a cave and finds the unimaginable on the other side.
The other part of portal/time loop stories that I like is the idea of this infinite unending cycle that can change reality, but never be closed. The very last scene of Palms Springs does this. That illusion that there is an escape is so heartbreaking and compelling at once.
There is a brief reference to the idea that this loop is the byproduct of a broken simulation. Simulation theory is a fun possibility to imagine.
The best exploration of this is, of course, The Matrix. The concept that our reality is controlled and that the controllers sometimes make mistakes or that there is a way to break free of that control is fascinating.
There are a lot of people who believe that simulation theory is in fact the world we live in. And I’m frequently inclined to buy into that. Even if you don’t believe we live in a computer program exactly like The Matrix, it’s hard to deny the massive influence technology has on us. It’s hard to deny the seemingly infinite number of control factors in our lives (taxes, HOA’s, standardized testing, passports, all cogs in a giant control system). So when Andy Samberg’s character nods at simulation theory being a possible explanation for the loop I couldn’t help but smirk.
Quirk is my entertainment love language. And I like it when little oddities are thrown into the mix, even if it’s only for the delight of the creator. And the hallucinated dinosaurs was just the right “what the…” moment for Palm Springs. They make two appearances that add whimsy and beauty to the film.
The writer provided a metaphorical explanation here. Which is always fun. But I like to think that this addition contributes to the great meaning of the movie, that this world is more than we can imagine and no matter what we encounter, happiness only comes from self-discovery and acceptance.
For fans of Russian Doll and Recursion, Palm Springs was a funny take on the time loop genre that didn’t skip out on the feel-goods necessary to still qualify it as a romcom.