Movie Review: Palm Springs13th February 2021
I couldn’t think of any film that has replicated the premise of Groundhog Day well. The Bill Murray and Harold Ramis pairing was lightning in a bottle, or so I had thought. Something so well written, performed and conceived only comes around once in a lifetime, but Palm Springs puts that theory to rest in what is by far one of the strongest films of this year. A modern-day take on the premise that trapped Murray’s Phil in a loop for an unknown amount of time, Palm Springs takes Nyles (Andy Samberg) to a wedding, where every day is the same.
Whilst it doesn’t deviate too much from that pivotal point of interest, what director Max Barbakow does when expanding upon it is really where the most entertaining and interesting aspects come into play. Barbakow’s direction is solid for this sort of project, a comedy piece where the plot is crucial to how well the jokes land. Thankfully, a formidable cast of recognisable faces is on hand to steer us through a well-directed piece that doesn’t do much in the way of presenting the authorial voice of our man behind the camera. For a feature-length debut, though, Barbakow seems relatively on top of everything. He keeps the pacing at a comfortable cruise, the editing throughout doesn’t feel egregious or forced, and it does away with many of the relatively large issues I have when it comes to facing modern American comedies.
The key, seemingly, is to not take itself all that seriously. It also helps to cast someone funny, which is why Samberg is so fitting in his leading role. He’s already impressive on Brooklyn-99, and it’s great to see he brings that sort of energy to Palm Springs, where we open on a man that has accepted his fate of being locked in a time loop. Throwing Cristin Milotti into the mixture, and you’ve got two fully likeable leads that share such an incredible amount of chemistry with one another. Palm Springs comes across as hilarious and heart-warming at the same time, bleeding those themes into one another with relative ease thanks to the talents on hand.
A couple of jokes fall flat, whilst others don’t receive enough time to simmer. This is easily forgiven, though, the sheer amount of jokes on display throughout this make it a real breeze, and it’s only natural that there’ll be a few bumps in the road along the way. Most of the funnier moments, do, of course, involve Samberg. Much of the film relies on his natural talents as a comedian, and he’s responsible for some of the more comfortable jokes scattered throughout. J.K. Simmons pulls his weight too, in a supporting performance that injects hope in a promising career once more, compared with his efforts in Father Figures he seems to have picked himself up rather well. While he may only be a supporting player, the impact Simmons has on the plot and continuity as a whole is a refreshing, comical take on this tried and tested narrative formula.
Perhaps the recency bias has taken its toll on me, or maybe I’m just overly thankful for a release from this year that didn’t feel like a waste of time, but there is undeniably something special within Palm Springs. Taking on the formula of Groundhog Day and giving it a real push in the right direction with strong comedic efforts from Samberg, Milotti and Simmons, this feature debut for Barbakow is a genuine delight. A hopefully bright future lies ahead for him, and if this crowd-pleasing beginning is anything to go by, he has what it takes to bring together some great features in the future.