Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti combine for one of the funniest movies at Sundance in Palm Springs, a high-concept comedy that lives up to its premise.
In the midst of family dramas, character studies, and horror flicks, director Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs stood like a lighthouse, a beacon of comedy that felt more necessary than extraneous at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Other comedies existed at the festival, of course, including Downhill, Save Yourselves! and The Nowhere Inn. Barbakow’s film though, starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, towered over these other comedies, giving audiences huge laughs and coming away with the biggest acquisition in Sundance history, by a whole 69 cents.
Produced by The Lonely Island, Palm Springs is one of the more high-concept romantic comedies in the past few years, following Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) as they try to escape a time loop on the day of Sarah’s sister’s wedding. They live the same few hours over and over again, heightening the Groundhog Day exploration of how we would react to being stuck at a point in our lives. The two begin spending their days together, committing crimes, throwing each other birthday parties, and never actually going to the wedding. They grow together over the next 90 minutes, with Samberg becoming less aloof and more charming, and Milioti only increasing her likability.
Samberg and Milioti have clear chemistry that chugs the film along, making you content just to hang out with these people. You’re having fun with them nearly the entire time, constantly rooting for them to be together and for them to escape this everlasting day. J.K. Simmons pops up as Roy, a military man caught up in the time loop due to some bad decisions with Nyles. Simmons stays hilarious throughout, as the supporting cast members simply support the two leads. Many will go see Palm Springs because of Samberg’s popularity, and for those people, this will only reaffirm his charm while showing off a bit more of his acting chops.
Barbakow’s film has something for everyone, even opting for smart and clever humor instead of gags and slapstick comedy. Andy Siara’s script deserves major recognition and praise, as he found a way to completely reinvent an old wheel, freshening up a story most audience members have seen before. Siara and Barbakow combine for their first dramatic features, and if this is any indication of their careers, we should strap in for lots of laughs over the next decade.
Palm Springs doesn’t waste scenes or time in its narrative. It is constantly moving, never letting up, and even the quieter scenes keep the story’s forward momentum. The setup does most of the work, and you never feel too lost or confused. It’s an easy, enjoyable movie to watch. If the Sundance crowds are any gauge, Palm Springs should make boatloads of money, and its now-distributors Neon and Hulu will be glad they paid the hefty price for an Andy Samberg comedy.
Palm Springs will surprise you with its wit and smarts, while Samberg will continue to grow his already massive fanbase. A comedy star looks to be born in Cristin Milioti and the cast’s chemistry remains on full display as you watch the film. Barbakow and Siara have made a film that’s hard to hate, and sometimes, that’s all you need to be successful for a comedy or romantic drama. Thankfully, Palm Springs is much more than that. It’s hard to hate, but more essentially, it’s easy to love.
This review was filed from Sundance 2020. Check out all of our coverage from the festival.
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Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.