If you’re a native of Southern California, the city Palm Springs brings up visions of Old Hollywood rich like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. If you’ve passed by during times of drought, you’ll be affronted by verdant golf course that springs up in the desert. Palm Springs was also the stomping grounds of a rock legend, the Sonny (Bono) half of Sonny and Cher (Bono, post-Cher, served as mayor, 1988-1992, and then later congressional representative). For a college crowd, Palm Springs is also the site of carousing college students during spring break in a pre-COVID-19 world.
The resort city is in Riverside County in the Colorado Desert’s Coachella Valley and about 10 percent of the city is part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation land. Palm Springs is a retirement location a winter snowbird haven where the city’s population triples between November and March.
The rom-com “Palm Springs” takes place on November 9. Nyles (Andy Samberg) wakes up each morning in bed as his girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is preparing for a wedding. He wants to have sex; she consents but is more preoccupied with getting ready and not sweating, besides there is too much light. As Nyles contents himself with jacking himself off, Misty realizes she doesn’t have her grandmother’s ring, but in reality, that’s of little concern.
This isn’t the wedding of Nyles and Misty, but of Misty’s friend Tala (Camila Mendes) and Abe (Tyler Hoechin). Nyles seems like the loser boyfriend, dressed in baggy bright shorts and a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, at the reception while everyone else is dressed up. After Misty’s maid of honor speech, the mic is offered to Tala’s elder sister, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), who is too drunk and too unprepared despite being the matron of honor. Nyles saves the day with a nice speech, but he’s had a lifetime of November 9’s to prepare.
Nyles tells the reception guests, “Here you are, standing on the precipice of something so much bigger than anyone here. But always remember, you are not alone.”
Later, as he’s romancing the drunk Sarah in the desert, a mysterious man with a bow and arrow pursue Nyles. Having been struck by an arrow, Nyles drags himself toward a cave, warning Sarah not to follow. She does.
Did I forget to mention that there’s a placid white and tan spotted goat, a glowing cave underneath a pile of desert rocks and an earthquake? Of course, you can’t avoid earthquakes if you live in Southern California and like Hulu’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” an earthquake is the catalyst for the time loop that Nyles is trapped in.
Sarah becomes trapped, too, and the assassin following Nyles, played with first laser-focused anger by J.K. Simmons, was invited in by Nyles. For both Nyles and Sarah, the day is one of bitter betrayal. And Nyles, like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in “Groundhog Day,” gets to know people and becomes entangled in their lives and also tries to end the loop through suicide. Unlike Phil, who woke up every day to Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe,” Nyles doesn’t really become a better person, saving lives and showing real concern. Nyles becomes complacent, even forgetting what kind of job he has in the life before.
Nyles tells Sarah, “You just have to embrace the fact that nothing matters.” That’s not enough for Sarah, “I can’t keep waking up in here. Everything that we are doing is meaningless.”
When Sarah disappears after feeling betrayed by Nyles, Nyles realizes his only true companions are the angry Roy and the troubled Sarah. Roy has also disappeared and Nyles pursues Roy to Irvine where we learn how Roy entered the loop. (There’s a joke about rush-hour traffic which will amuse Southern Californians). Irvine, like Palm Springs is known as a conservative, well-to-do place (that has it’s own population of students via UC Irvine, my first four-year college). We also learn what has driven Sarah to drink too much at the first wedding reception.
While “Groundhog Day” was about the universe waiting for Phil to find his way back to a happy place, “Palm Springs” is about figuring out the natural laws of this time portal. Instead of Nyles improving the lives of everyone he meets, after Sarah and Nyles bitterly break-up, Sarah becomes determined to find a way to break the cycle and that involves pursuing studies in quantum physics online (much like Phil learned language and piano). With a theory, she invites Nyles to break out of the cycle, but during his many days without her, Nyles has realized he’s in love with Sarah and would rather spend an eternity of November 9th’s with her.
While “Groundhog Day” was rated PG, “Palm Springs” is rated R for language and sexual situations. This isn’t a family film, but it pairs two likable comedic actors who have a casual, comfy chemistry in a rom-com film that doesn’t ignore the ramifications of personal mistakes. Maybe one can find love at weddings.
P.S. Wait for the mid-credits scene.