Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Film Review: Palm Springs


Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

The comparisons to Palm Springs and Groundhog Day are inevitable and unfortunate.  It is inevitable because when Groundhog Day came out, the idea of reliving the same day over and over again seemed fresh and original.  Not it feels so well-trod as lacking in surprise or delight.  It is also unfortunate, because Palm Springs suffers even more by comparison.

The movie begins on the day of a wedding at a resort in Palm Springs.  Nyles (Andy Samdberg) wakes up in his girlfriend's room and spends the day lazing his way through to the wedding.  There he catches the eye of Sarah (Christin Milioti) and the two go to the desert to hook up.  However, Nyles gets attacked by a man with a bow-and-arrow and retreats to a cave with a glowing light.  Though Nyles warns Sarah not to come closer, she does and she finds herself waking up at the beginning of that same day.  When she finds Nyles and confronts him, she finds that they are both caught in an infinite time loop with no means of escape.  What follows is an examination of the questions raised by Groundhog Day, particularly how to find meaning in a life without any external consequences.

The best thing about the movie are the leads.  Samberg and Milioti have instant chemistry and they play off of each other incredibly well.  Their personalities are different enough to make the pairing interesting while making their mutual attraction and shared humor seem effortless.  If they were given a better movie, this film could push them into the higher levels of stardom.

The problem is that this movie takes the lessons of Groundhog Day and views them through a post-modern lens.  In both movies, our heroes try to first find meaning in illicit pleasures, followed by suicidal despair.  The difference though is that Groundhog Day wisely understands if you draw happiness from being a good an moral person, then the external consequences have less meaning.  Palm Springs uses morality like a Pelagian bargain where good actions should somehow earn grace.  And if they do not, then the good actions are viewed as pointless.  The closest the movie gets to the depths of Groundhog Day is when Nyles explains why he doesn't murder people. He says that everyone else resets, but he has to live with what he's done.  But all this does is set a low bar for not doing evil rather than the high bar of doing good.

The movie is also incredibly vulgar, not only its graphic language, but in its raunchy approach to sexuality.  While there is no nudity, sex acts are shown in explicit detail for comedic effect.  But instead, it all serves as a gross turn off.  Samberg is famous for getting great laughs out of incredibly juvenile humor, and more power to him.  But Palm Springs is not helped by this tone.  It depicts Nyles as cavalierly engaging in depraved sex acts with women and men out of some kind of sheer desperation out of the morass of his meaninglessness.  But the humor never takes gets insightful enough about the nihilism that this movie offers.

There is also a joke that is so pointedly anti-religious, that I cannot understand why it is put in there.  I suppose that it there to show how Nyles is adrift in a sea of meaninglessness, but he never seems to come in to shore and find purpose.  True, the love story is supposed to be the heart, but there is something lacking here too.  It feels too narcissistic, like two people who turn their back on the consequences of the world and the moral life to focus on each other.  I've known couples like this who look at life as "You and me against the world," and it isn't a healthy philosophy.  

Now, you may think I am trying to get too deep with a silly romantic comedy.  But if you make a movie that wants to ask the big questions, you need to be ready to grapple with the big answers.  

And Palm Springs is not.


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