5 Takeaways from Hulu's 'Palm Springs'
July 13, 2020
Palm Springs is absolutely the kind of film that you should go into blind. It’s a delight knowing nothing about it and being pleasantly surprised at every turn. So, if you’ve already seen it, this article is for you, because there will indeed be spoilers!
In this Groundhog Day meets My Best Friend’s Wedding the audience quickly learns something is off—especially about one of the wedding’s guests: Nyles, played by a toned down and infinitely watchable Andy Samberg. While everyone hustles and bustles to ready themselves for the wedding, a disaffected Nyles floats in a pool and drinks a beer. When he offers a drink to a fellow pool swimmer who asks him, “Good day so far?” Nyles replies: “Today, tomorrow, it’s all the same.” And bam, the audience is clued into that, “It’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about,” as Nyles later explains to Sarah (played by wide-eyed and determined Cristin Milioti).
Hollywood loves a good time loop movie. There are so many it has become a genre unto itself and based on this weekend’s Twitter reaction to the newly released (and Sundance record-setting film—it sold for the highest price ever of $17.5 million) Palm Springs will go down in history as a beloved fan favorite. If the flick’s got you thinking about tackling your own time loop concept, this article will help you with some great takeaways while examining the loop that allows loopers to re-examine themselves—again, and again, and again.
- Nail a Personal Hook Beyond Just a Time Loop. The best films, time loop or no time loop, have an excellent hook beyond a gimmick. Audiences love and can quote Groundhog Day because Bill Murray goes through a powerful journey from selfish jerk to selfless man transformed by the power of love. Palm Springs director Max Barbakow told The Ringer that the film stemmed from a crisis of faith in his own life. Barbakow was in what felt like a never-ending loop of weddings himself, but still felt like his own love life was drifting. He pinpointed the hook of Palm Springs at one of those weddings with the question, “What if someone who felt so deficient in his own love life was stuck at the best day of somebody else’s life forever?” Barbakow and his writing partner Andy Siara then set off to start work on the script (that became a five-year writing process).
- Bring Something New to Well-Known Genre. Again, time loop movies are beloved by Hollywood and there’s many of them. Wikipedia lists over 50, and the list only begins counting in 1984. Point being, if tackling a beloved genre that has been studied by many, attempt to bring a new twist. Barbakow and Siara did so by adding a sci-fi element to their time loop. In the world of Palm Springs, multiple characters have been dropped into the timeline. This allows for the delightful duel perspective from both Nyles and Sarah’s POV. While audiences are experiencing the repetition of the timeline, they still get to experience it from two different points of view. This cries out for a re-watch to catch all the subtleties of discovery from each character’s experience in the loop.
- Embrace Your Conventions. When working in a space that has so many beloved precedents set, why not embrace those precedents and have fun with them? Almost every time loop movie has a character trying to escape by making wrong decisions, such as trying to off themselves, indulging to excess, embracing how many people they could get to fall in love with them, (or just have some fun sexual relations while stuck in the loop). Palm Springs does this brilliantly. Nyles tries everything (not to mention some hilarious and unexpected sexual escapades) and then tries some of these things again with Sarah as she comes to accept her trapped fate of reliving what seems to be a very ill-fated wedding day. Again, Siara and Barbakow use conventions to their advantage and give Nyles a very big secret he’s keeping from Sarah that becomes an Achilles heel in their relationship. It’s too good to spoil here. Go ahead, go watch the movie!
- Something Will Have to Be Set Right. Usually, a looper cannot escape their loop until they discover what they have to set right about their life in order to escape. While Nyles and Sarah absolutely go on a journey of self-discovery, their loop is not just broken by a magical moral spell. Sarah also takes time to study quantum physics to science herself out of this mess. The only question that remains is, will Nyles trust her scientific judgement enough to risk death over an eternal looping life and get the hell out of their predicament?
- The Time Loop Interstitial. It’s nice to give your audience a cue to the start of every new day. Groundhog Day has the quintessential alarm clock, and Palm Springs has the voice of Nyles’s unfaithful Instagramer girlfriend, Misty, who brought him to the wedding in the first place. Every new morning is marked by Misty whispering an unsettling, “Wake-up.” As the movie delves deeper into the loop examination, there’s also the sound of running water and a shower in Sarah’s POV loop, but again, the reveal of who’s in that shower is too good to give away here. Regardless, tying your interstitial time demarcation device to story will give your audience Easter eggs they won’t soon forget.
Final Takeaway: There’s no doubt that Palm Springs had the shadow of many other time loop movies to contend with beyond the classic Groundhog Day—including the more recent, and very popular, Russian Doll and Happy Death Day. Nevertheless, Palm Springs has earned a place in the unique genre’s cannon as a touching piece that examines many of life’s largest existential questions when you’ve got all the time in the world to waste. Not to mention the timing of the film’s release in the middle of a life-changing pandemic when days blend together was a bizarre coincidence, to say the least. Ultimately, Palm Springs is a genre-bending and genre-defying title that stands on its own two feet with homages and surprises in all the right places.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/