The second half of Max Barbakow and Andy Samberg‘s Palm Springs (Hulu, now streaming), a time-loop wedding comedy a la Groundhog Day, is less irksome than the first half — I’ll give it that.
But even during the second half I only laughed once. Okay, maybe twice. And there are no laughs at all during the first 40 or 45. Plus the central situational incident is a wedding, and I’ve always hated wedding flicks (except, of course, for The Wedding Crashers and Robert Altman‘s A Wedding).
I’d been hearing for months how wildly funny Palm Springs is (Sundance ’20 attendees went apeshit), and how it sold for $17 million and small change. And now there’s the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic ratings (94% and 84% respectively). And for all of it I sat on my couch like the Great Sphinx at Giza.
Groundhog Day was dry and deadpan and even nourishing in a mystical reincarnation sense, and all the richer and better for that. It didn’t explain why Bill Murray had fallen into this trap — it just pushed him into the pool and watched him try to figure it all out. But manic-surreal Palm Springs is hung up on all kinds of details and reasons and particulars, and it doesn’t have the slightest semblance of a mystical current. Plus it feels overly pushed and frantic and broad. Groundhog Day is at least 15 or 20 times better.
In the droll Murray role, Samberg has been stuck in the time loop for a long while (the source being some kind of churning inferno inside a cave), but in this outing the Andie McDowell romantic-interest character (played by Cristin Milioti) is also sucked in.
And so, of course, Milioti (whose character is the sister of the bride at the Palm Springs wedding in question) has to go through the usual stages — shock, disbelief, brittle facial expressions, eyes popping, shouting. In my book there are few things as unfunny as looks of stunned confusion — i.e., actors telling you over and over again that they’re staggered and at a loss for words (except for “what the fuck!”) when something extraordinary occurs.
You know Samberg and Milioti will challenge and irritate each other to death, but will fall in love by Act Three.
I understand, of course, that high-concept farce tends to go hand in hand with hammy acting, but this time almost nothing is funny. J.K. Simmons, another time-loop prisoner, shooting Samberg with real, flesh-piercing arrows isn’t funny. Samberg’s character says two or three times that despite the certainty of the same day being repeated that physical pain is nonetheless real, and so Milioti jumping in front of a speeding truck isn’t funny. Her younger sister falling and knocking her front teeth out isn’t funny. Strapping C4 explosive to a goat and blowing it into a thousand shards of flesh, blood, hair and bone isn’t funny.
Plus Samberg’s profoundly irritating blonde girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) speaks with a mixture of vocal slur fry and a sexy baby voice.
Why did Palm Springs sell for such a high price, and why did Park City audiences love it so much? Mountain air, the Sundance syndrome, etc. Remember Late Night, Brittany Runs a Marathon, Patti Cake$ and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl? Big Sundance hits, died when they opened.
Somebody’s mentioned that the concept of being locked into the same day over and over carries extra poignancy now with everyone suffering in pandemic lockdown…true.
I’m presuming that millions will nonetheless find Palm Springs funny. All my life I’ve been staring blankly at unsubtle comedies that low-rent audiences have adored — I realize that. It’s not that I never laugh, but I can’t laugh at stuff that isn’t funny.
Palm Springs isn’t a disaster — as noted I stopped hating it around the 45 or 50-minute mark. Or I gave up or something. It just doesn’t work for the most part, and it certainly doesn’t have a soul.