The Groundhog Day premise is now so familiar that it’s possible to imagine a sci-fi nightmare about someone waking up in a world where every film they watch, new and old, eerily turns out to be a different remake of the classic comedy – until that person fixes some awful sadness or wrongness or selfishness in their life. Only then can they sit down to a film and realise with a smile of inexpressible relief that it isn’t a bittersweet comedy about being trapped in a time-loop. Credits.
It’s a credit to LA musician-turned-screenwriter Andy Siara that he has managed to make this time-loop film so ingenious, so good-natured and so funny, hurdling the inevitable deja-vu objections.
We awaken in a luxury hotel resort at which Nyles, played by Andy Samberg, is a wedding guest, along with girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) who is a maid-of-honour, and with whom Nyles has a sexual problem all too horribly indicative of his current cosmic situation. At the ceremony, Nyles is bleary, drunk and cheerfully disengaged, but at the reception party he finds a connection with the bride’s lonely, unhappy sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti, who played Teresa, the first wife of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street). They ditch the party to be alone together, but come into traumatic contact with another important person in Nyles’s life, a murderously angry old guy called Mike (JK Simmons), and Sarah is to realise the awful fix Nyles has got her into.
Samberg is probably the only actor who could have sold this film’s premise to us so effortlessly and Peter Pannishly. As a performer, Samberg is a living cartoon of casual comic precision. He is 42 years old, but looks no older than he did when I first saw him in the 2007 comedy Hot Rod, plausibly playing a kid far younger than his then late twentysomething self. He maybe has a portrait of Paul Rudd in his attic (or it could be the other way around).
Palm Springs was a smash at this year’s Sundance film festival, and people said it was because lockdown has made time-loops fashionable … again. But they are a perennially potent film subject. As for Palm Springs, it delivers some much-needed laughs. I’d like to watch it again.
• Palm Springs is released on 9 April on Amazon Prime Video.