After watching Palm Springs (dir. Max Barbacow, 2020), I felt the urge to research the “Groundhog Day” story; a plot in which one or more characters are living the same day over and over again. Unsurprisingly, “Groundhog Day” is the actual name for this trope following the cult success of the 1993 comedy. What I found interesting was the number of other tropes encompassed within the “Groundhog Day” loop. Many of the beats in the story are the same, even as this plot-framing device is applied to different genres. In the past few years, a variety of genres have tackled this plot. Edge of Tomorrow (dir. Doug Liman, 2014) is a big-budget, sci-fi action film. Happy Death Day (dir. Christopher Landon, 2017) combined elements of horror and mystery. Palm Springs uses the repeated-day-time-loop to house a dramatic romantic comedy. This is not exactly a unique take; many of the films I’ve mentioned, namely Groundhog Day itself, work with some element of both comedy and romance. Palm Springs may act as another entry into the “Groundhog Day” category with many of the same cliches, but it also subverts some tropes in ways that make the film feel unique.
In my research of the different tropes involved in a time loop story, one that stood out to me was “karma houdini”. This refers to the phenomenon in which a character in a loop faces no consequences for their action, as their day simply resets with no continuity from the previous day. This is where we see the common montage in this type of film where characters are indulging or using the loop to their advantage as there are no ramifications. While usually portrayed in a lighthearted tone, it leads to the most interesting trope I found: ““time loop fatigue”, which is when the repetition of the day begins to take a mental toll on a character.
The main character of Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg), spends most of the film suffering “time loop fatigue”. When the film starts, he has already experienced his “karma houdini” thrill, and has lost hope that he will ever escape his loop. Void of motivation and urgency, Nyles becomes a representation of nihilism. When Sarah (Christin Milioti) enters the loop, she has not yet suffered from “time loop fatigue” long enough to be as jaded as Nyles. Subsequently, she becomes a personified representation of existentialism. The clashing of these ideologies provides for an interesting conflict, and as they learn to meet somewhere in the middle, an organic love story unfolds.
By the end of the film, Sarah has utilized the loop to understand how it works and how to escape. In this category of film, it is common for the loop to remain a mystery. When Sarah begins to learn about it, expectations of the film’s direction become disrupted, and it provides a unique moment in which Nyles and Sarah have a choice of whether or not to remain in the loop. Palm Springs presents the “Groundhog Day” trope in a new way that allows it to become a setting for further character development.
There are too many jokes to choose from about the re-watchability of this film, or the meta-ness of starting it from the beginning as soon as you finish. So, instead I will leave you with a recommendation to watch it through for the first time, if you haven’t already.
Palm Springs is currently streaming on Hulu.