It's always tough coming months late to films that make a big splash on the film festival circuit. Features debuting at Sundance, Cannes or any other big festival can generate a lot of hype at their premieres. But when they finally get released to the public months later, some films can't live up to their now-mythic stature. What was a surprise success at Tribeca is now an underwhelming experience in general release. Luckily, "Palm Springs," which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews six months ago, is not an example of that phenomenon. Put simply, "Palm Springs" is an utterly delightful comedy whether you're watching it at a film festival or on your living room couch.
Part of the fun of "Palm Springs" (now streaming on Hulu) is all the surprises that lie in wait, so I won't spoil the whole game. But, suffice to say, "Palm Springs" is the tale of two people, Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), who run into each other at a wedding for Sarah's sister. As the night winds down, they run off to go have sex away and then engage in a series of events that ensure they're not leaving this wedding. They're now stuck on this wedding day forever "Groundhog Day"-style. It's a situation that plays into their individual tendencies not to care about others, though there's plenty of complications in store.
Personally, the fact that "Palm Springs" is such a well-shot movie is already enough to make me wanna recommend it. I've made it no secret how much I detest visually forgettable comedies, the ones that are barely shot any better than your average multi-camera sitcom. "Palm Springs" does not fall into that category at all. The movie looks crisp as can be. It's actually got interesting costume design choices (I love how Nyles' outfit contrasts with everybody else's wedding attire). Best of all, director Max Barbakow (making a great directorial debut here) shows a gift for how to visually execute absurdist gags. Such execution is based on the fact that he doesn't treat these gags as all that weird in terms of camerawork.
Rather than incorporating zany frantic camerawork that pokes you in the ribs over how ludicrous certain jokes are, Barbakow's directing captures the most ridiculous jokes in "Palm Springs" with a matter-of-fact quality. Static wide or medium shots are used to frame comedic chaos while aspects of the movie - like a montage of one supporting character torturing somebody - are shot like something from an actual thriller rather than a comedy starring Samberg. Such recurring juxtaposition only makes the most bizarre gags of "Palm Springs," like an impending murder in a recycle bin or an airplane crashing into the ground, all the more humorous. Plus, this creative choice on the part of Barbakow makes for a great extension of how the two leads of "Palm Springs" treat their new existence.
Nyles and Sarah go with the flow when the unexplainable happens - why shouldn't the camerawork of "Palm Springs" follow suit? The distinct perspectives of these two characters isn't just reinforced by the directing in "Palm Springs," it's also well-realized through the screenplay by Andy Siara. Though his script is following in the footsteps of numerous other time-loop tales, Siara shows a clever eye for originality. Rather than just leaning on an endless succession of "Groundhog Day" homages, Siara constantly explores new exciting ground for this particular time-loop story. Additionally, the way he embraces totally strange plot developments is commendable. Siara doesn't get bogged down in exposition or explanations, he just lets the weirdness of "Palm Springs" inform some of its most humorous sequences.
Siara's screenplay hands off two well-developed characters for the lead performers of "Palm Springs" to handle, and neither of them disappoints. It's nifty to see Samberg, who so often plays upbeat dreamers, portraying someone with so much believable angst weighing down his soul. It's a part he handles quite well and he also has great chemistry with Milioti. In her first feature film role, she just aces her performance as Sarah, particularly whenever she gets to display an immense level of chaotic energy. Her endearing and rough-around-the-edges lead turn in "Palm Springs" is so much fun to watch. It's the kind of excellent performance that can live up to film festival hype and the same can be said for "Palm Springs" as a movie.
Douglas Laman is a lifelong movie fan and writer. A graduate of UT Dallas, he is preparing to become a graduate student at the University of North Texas. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.