Charming Springs delivers timely message

Taking its cue from Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara bring a new twist to the time loop premise with Palm Springs, a quirky comedy with a weighty undertone that manages to find new angles to explore in a mini-genre that had seemingly exhausted all of its possibilities in record time. Whether it's being stuck eternally in a weather-related holiday, endlessly battling hordes of aliens or reliving your death again and again and again (Happy Death Day) the characters caught in their respective anomalies must ultimately contend with the five stages of grief in order to move on. And while Springs' three unfortunates go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance where their predicament is concerned, the conclusions they come to are distinctly more poignant and meaningful than any seen before.

Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is certainly stuck. By her own admission she drinks too much and sleeps around and while they would never admit it, she knows that her parents are disappointed in her. The last place she wants to be is at her sister's wedding yet she knows there's no avoiding it, so she deals with it as best she can – imbibing heavily and looking for a way to make an early exit. However, just before she's forced to make a speech she hasn't prepared for, the party is crashed by Nyles (Andy Samberg), dressed for the occasion in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, his sense of timing suggesting that he somehow knows just what will happen before it happens. Drawn to him, Sarah leaves the ceremony for an impromptu hike in the nearby desert where they are ambushed by Roy (J.K. Simmons), a man hellbent on killing Nyles in the most gruesome manner at his disposal. That they ultimately wander into a cave where there's a mysterious pulsating light at the end of the tunnel Sarah is warned not to enter, seems apropos to the tone Barbakow effectively establishes early on.

When she awakes the next day, it takes a while for Sarah to realize that she is not suffering from an extreme case of déjà vu but reliving the same day. Nyles does his best to get her up to speed and also clue her in as to why Roy is stuck in the loop as well. Barbakow establishes a breezy pace that's buoyed by the appealing chemistry of the two leads and Simmons' innate charisma. The interaction between these three is a delight to behold, with Milioti being a genuine surprise. She runs the gamut as her character tries to come to terms with the strange new world she's in, going from abject fear to fierce confidence over the course of untold days with a sincerity that wins us over. That Samburg digs deeper than he has before is an unexpected bonus.

The appeal of these films lies in the fact that though while none of us may find ourselves repeating the same day again and again, we've all experienced phases in our lives where we've felt stuck. Of course, the current semi-quarantine conditions we're living in brings an added resonance to the film that greatly drives home its point. More than anything, Springs posits that an appreciation for the small wonders that life presents us is the key to happiness and that the trap so many of us fall into is that we take these for granted. It seems that existential crises can be solved by performing elaborate dance routines in dive bars or by taking impromptu road trips. Of course, having someone who thoroughly understands you surely helps.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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