Last year gave us two innovative multiverse twists on the well-worn time-loop trope: the Netflix comedy series Russian Doll, and the horror/comedy Happy Death Day 2 U (a sequel to 2018's Happy Death Day). One would think there wouldn't be many new veins to mine in this subgenre, but Palm Springs rises to the challenge, delivering a slyly subversive, charmingly self-aware time loop tale that toys with audience expectations in subtly surprising ways.
(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)
Screenwriter Andy Siara (Lodge 49) wrote a draft of the script while still a student at the American Film Institute, although there were no science-fiction-y time loop elements in that version. He has said he was inspired more by Leaving Las Vegas than Groundhog Day. Eventually he reworked the script with the help of Director Max Barbakow (Palm Springs is Barbakow's directorial debut), and Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) signed on to star in the film. The film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival (pre-coronavirus), and sparked a bidding war for distribution rights. Neon and Hulu ultimately shelled out a purported $17.5 million for those rights—the biggest deal yet in Sundance's history.
Per the official premise: "When carefree Nyles (Samberg) and reluctant maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti, How I Met Your Mother, Fargo) have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated when they find themselves unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other." It's Saturday, November 9, of an unspecified year (although that date fell on a Saturday last year). Nyles is attending the wedding of Abe (Tyler Hoechlin, 7th Heaven) and Tala (Camila Mendes, Riverdale) with his younger girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner, Search Party), who is one of the bridesmaids.
Meanwhile, Tala's sister Sarah, as the black sheep of her family, mostly deals with the nuptials by drinking heavily. ("It's not good wine," Daisy the barkeep warns her at the reception. "I don't care," Sarah responds.) She also forgot to prepare the traditional maid of honor's speech. That's when Nyles steps in, delivering a note-perfect toast to divert attention from the drunken Sarah. Over the course of the evening, that initial spark of attraction strengthens, and when Nyles reveals that Misty is cheating on him with Trevor (Chris Pang, Crazy Rich Asians), Sarah agrees to sneak off with him for a hookup.
That's when things get weird. Just as Nyles is stripping down, a crazy guy named Roy (J.K. Simmons, Counterpart) shoots him with several arrows. A badly wounded Nyles flees into a nearby cave, urging a horrified Sarah not to follow him. But she does, and finds herself sucked into a glowing orange vortex—before waking up in the same bed as before. It's Saturday, November 9 again. When she confronts Nyles, he confesses that they are stuck in "one of those infinite time loop situations that you may have heard about," reminding her that he warned her not to follow him into the cave.
Palm Springs sets itself apart from the outset, because when we first meet Nyles, he has already been "looping" for an indefinite, but clearly long, period of time—long enough that he has become cynically resigned to his fate of reliving the same day (and wedding) over and over and over. It also takes a page from Russian Doll, in that there is more than one person caught in the loop.