Get under the surface fun of ‘Palm Springs’ with Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg
“Palm Springs” came out in what qualifies in quarantine time as 14 millenniums ago (or was it yesterday? It was July 10, for the record), but stars Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg are still tickled to answer questions about it. Luckily for them, the Easter egg-packed time-loop comedy rewards repeat viewing.
“To be still talking about a movie this long after it comes out is what you dream. So I’m happy to talk about it as much as anyone wants to,” Samberg says.
In a separate video call, Milioti says, “The wild ride of it has changed because first it was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we broke a record at Sundance [by 69 cents, Samberg has happily pointed out in the past — the distributor Neon paid $17,500,000.69 to acquire it, topping the $17,500,000 paid by then-Fox Searchlight for Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”], then it was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe we’re releasing this movie. Now it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that this little movie is still having such a life.’ ”
By now, they’ve heard all the time-loop jokes stemming from the pandemic, how “Palm Springs” is a fitting movie for this seemingly endless moment. After all, the predicament of two people waking up to the same routine forever is more relatable than usual these days. But they’re also hearing the film has stayed with people more than most comedies might. It’s not just the tricks of finding new meaning in scenes when watching again. There’s something else rewarding in there, beneath the sweet-but-rocky romance and the “Groundhog Day” magic. There’s something to which people are relating.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are trapped in the same day, repeating endlessly. There’s existential dread and despair. It’s a comedy.
“It’s always been about the desperation of wanting to escape yourself; the time loop is almost superfluous. And weirdly, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately,” says Milioti, wistfully musing about how the snow in New York City, where she is, has accentuated the unnatural stillness of this time.
“One of the things I loved about this is that she is going to be fine without him,” she says of her character, Sarah, in the romance with Samberg’s character, Nyles. “Some people don’t think that’s romantic. I actually think that’s wildly romantic to say, ‘I know that I could be OK. I’m choosing this. This is a daily choice.’ They are both really difficult people to be around. I mean, they’re also great,” she says, saucer eyes becoming salad plates for emphasis.
Milioti embraces the not-so-greatness that made Sarah’s family treat her like “a throbbing radioactive zone: She makes everything about herself. She shows up drunk to everything, she’s a mess. She takes up so much energy and space and she’s exhausting to be around. And she’s a human in pain. I love that, because that is very true too.
“Hurt people hurt people. The explosions can distract from all the stuff you’re trying to run away from. So I always looked at her as this wildly sympathetic character.”
Unlike most rom-coms, “Palm Springs” addresses the work that must be done — in a relationship and on oneself — to come anywhere near something like fulfillment.
“You can tell a lot about a person’s personality based on the rom-coms they connect with,” Samberg says. “For me, it’s the ones that are a little messier. I like ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and ‘Always Be My Maybe.’ The ones that feel real, where you can see the time spent together and the shorthand and delighting in one another’s peculiarities.
“I’ve always described my marriage like it’s a slumber party that’s just never ending; that feeling of ‘I can’t believe we’re getting away with this.’ The goal with ‘Palm Springs’ was to try and split the difference between a broad studio rom-com and ‘Punch Drunk Love.’ You know, an indie mixed with existential dread.”
The comparisons to other time-loop films don’t bother Samberg at all.
“As someone who is a huge fan, obviously, of ‘Groundhog Day,’ and honestly, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and now ‘Russian Doll’ — there’s a lot of really good time loop content. The thing I really liked about this one was it assumes you’ve seen those and it starts sort of past the end of ‘Groundhog Day.’ What if Bill Murray didn’t get out and was there for anywhere from 40 to 1,000 years? And there were other people in it too?
“I always want to make things that reward people for what they’ve already seen and assume that they know what I know, having spent my life watching as much as humanly possible,” he says.
He’s quick to point out that “Groundhog Day,” while a rom-com, also has its share of existential dread. That sounds about right for “Palm Springs’” protagonists in an endlessly repeating cycle, finding they can neither escape nor build anything lasting.
Milioti notes that screenwriter Andy Siara has said the film also throws depression into the mix. “That’s what depression feels like,” the actress says. “You wake up every day and you replay the worst things that you’ve done or the worst things about yourself and you can’t escape them.”
Yes, this is a comedy. There are many funny moments. But there’s also floating, and not in a good way. For whatever self-destructive qualities Sarah has, she has the capacity to be bravely proactive.
Samberg’s Nyles, by contrast, thinks, “I just wanna float and not think about anything because that’s all I am now,” says the actor, who also co-produced. “I think there’s a lot of people that can relate to that feeling in one way, shape or form. The movie asks, ‘Is there a way back from that?’ And ‘Can you learn to love yourself enough to let love into your life again?’ You really hope the answer is ‘Yes.’
“That’s what we were kind of chasing: ‘Is there meaning to any of it?’ And even if everything is meaningless, you can still find meaning in sharing love and feeling some version of happiness and positivity while we’re going through it. Somebody to pet your head while you’re breaking down and crying about the meaninglessness of it all.”
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