Almost three decades after its original release, Groundhog Day has transcended being just a beloved movie. Bill Murray’s perpetual Punxsutawney vacation has practically become a genre, with its central time-loop concept thriftily recycled for everything from sci-fi thrillers (Source Code, Edge Of Tomorrow) to slasher horror (the Happy Death Day franchise).
What is much rarer is a Groundhog Day-inspired film that tries to be an actual rom-com, perhaps because that would be taking the long-standing champ head on. So Palm Springs feels like a big swing: a scruffy, often raunchy movie about finding a soulmate in the strangest of circumstances (in this case, a fancy destination wedding in the titular resort town).
Andy Samberg from zippy cop sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine stars as Nyles, a seemingly immature slacker rarely seen without a beer in his hand. In truth, there are probably worse time-loops to be trapped in – this one has free food and booze, blazing sunshine plus a pool – and if Nyles can sometimes be wilfully obnoxious or unexpectedly philosophical it fits the setting: who hasn’t let off some steam at a wedding reception?
Refreshingly, Palm Springs also assumes the viewer is familiar with Groundhog Day so very little time is spent on the set-up. Instead we get to experience the shock of the weirdness of living the same day over again via Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the hedonistic and slightly resentful sister of the bride who finds herself dragged into Nyles’s predicament.
Seeing how Sarah processes her new circumstances is part of the fun, and Samberg and Milioti have exuberant, “why the hell not?” energy to burn. It also levels the playing field: rather than Bill Murray having an unfair advantage when charming the oblivious Andie MacDowell, you have two leads with all the time in the world to reflect on what they actually want from life and love. If that makes it sound a little worthy, Palm Springs is also stuffed full of enough slapstick gags and ribald humour to distract us all from feelings of anxiety-inducing stasis.