The romantic comedy has always been a cinematic pariah, unanimously written off by most critics as forgettable fluff. Over the years, only a few films belonging to the genre have managed to leave an indelible mark on viewers and critics alike. The ‘rom-com’ has inconspicuously faded away in the recent past despite streaming platforms like Netflix attempting revivals with releases like The Kissing Booth, Set It Up and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While these films have been commercial successes they haven’t managed to add anything new to the romantic comedy canon.
Hulu’s summer release Palm Springs might just change all of this. This delightful, charming rom-com starring Andy Samberg (as Nyles) and Cristin Milioti (as Sarah) has managed to breathe life into a genre that everyone has always been so quick to dismiss. Nyles and Sarah have a quintessential rom-com ‘meet-cute’, they bump into each other at Sarah’s sisters wedding. Their repartee quickly establishes their chemistry and as a viewer you begin predicting the inevitable outcome of this contrived set-up. But Palm Springs has other plans. The initial meet-cute takes an interesting turn when Sarah finds herself reliving the same day, something Nyles has become comfortable doing for much longer than her. What makes Palm Springs different from its rom-com peers is that it reexamines the purpose of love and its function in our lives. While most rom-coms privilege romantic love over everything else and favour unrealistic depictions of relationships, Palm Springs takes its time to understand its characters and their motivations, which makes the love that blossoms between them seem authentic and earned.
Aside from being an obvious homage to the classic, Groundhog Day, Palm Springs manages to offer something unique by becoming a film that addresses life’s ‘big’ questions without ever being too heavy-handed. Sarah’s anger and confusion is in stark contrast with Nyles’ nonchalance, while she frantically looks for a way out, he seems content with the life he leads in the loop. After several attempts to escape, Sarah realises that she may actually be stuck in the loop forever which is when she reluctantly embraces her new life. With only each other for company, Sarah and Nyles explore interesting ways to entertain themselves with hilarious results, there’s a particularly adorable montage sequence that will leave you beaming.
The film is always careful to steer clear of familiar trappings of the rom-com genre. Palm Springs is an incredibly fun film to watch, every scene infused with both humour and heart, thanks to stellar performances by its lead pair. Samberg delivers a pitch-perfect performance playing the cavalier lead who’s content with his escapism while Milioti offers a nuanced portrayal of someone who is struggling to come to terms with the person she has become.
Palm Springs also happens to be uncannily timely. Our world is stuck in a peculiar loop of itself, every day seems to mirror the other and the concept of time has changed for everyone in quarantine. Nyles and Sarah contemplate the meaning of life in their own loop. While Sarah believes their time in the loop is essentially meaningless, Nyles has a counter: Was her real life any different? After all, we don’t choose to be born, we’re plunged into a world against our will and must struggle to create meaning every day of our lives. Existential angst is at the heart of Palm Springs coupled with the question of companionship and if choosing to love someone is simply a result of fearing a lifetime of loneliness. Their time loop then becomes a symbol of the lives that we lead, mundane and repetitive with no way out. Our quest for meaning and purpose stems from the fact that we know how insignificant our lives are in the grand scheme of things. Sarah and Nyles battle forms of existential dread in their own way making us reconsider what really matters to us in life.
Nyles and Sarah spend a lot of time with each other that deepens their bond, but that’s only circumstantial, a point that Sarah brings up towards the end of the film. Would the couple really have fallen in love if they had met in the real world? Does it even matter now that they’ve met each other? By offering audiences these questions, Palm Springs becomes a romantic comedy that compels us to see that our lives aren’t necessarily lacking something without a romantic partner, if it’s all meaningless anyway, it doesn’t matter if you’re alone, right? It might not, but the film leaves us with one parting thought – not a lot matters, but it’s always nice to have someone you can enjoy yourself with, someone who makes a mundane life just a little less tedious and maybe that’s all we really need. Grand romantic gestures pale in comparison to having someone you can share a beer with while unapologetically being yourself, just as Nyles and Sarah do through much of the film.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.