The R-rated Romcom is alive and well in “Palm Springs,” a creative look at the 40-something slacker male and the woman destined to drag him into adulthood. This new release—streaming only on Hulu—expands on a well-worn genre by granting both sides of the couple equal time. Andy Samberg (a veteran of “Saturday Night Live” and other TV series), fully inhabits the role of Nyles, with exceptional physical as well as verbal humor. Cristin Milioti, also best known for TV roles (the mother in “How I Met Your Mother”), is Sarah, the more thoughtful and somewhat less comedic side of the couple and a formidable match for Nyles.
For both of these should-be-adults, life is unsatisfactory. Sarah, viewed in the context of her younger sister’s wedding, is the disappointing daughter – “they think I fuck around and drink too much,” she tells Nyles. “And why’s that?” he asks. “Because I fuck around and drink too much,” she replies. Just why Nyles is stuck in a puerile adolescence is not explained; he has no backstory. He is shown in almost every scene in Hawaiian shirt and shorts (even at the wedding) with a can of no-name beer in his hand (even at the wedding). In the special circumstances that underpin the film, he flails at finding meaning in life. His exploration, which Sarah later joins, offers several possibilities: all is meaningless; life can be a series of amusing escapades; existence is so boring suicide is an option, except in this story line it’s impossible to pull off; love is – or is not – out there somewhere and may, or may not, be transforming.
For writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow, this is a first full-length feature (Judd Apatow, move over). They pack the film with a wealth of one-liners and funny incidents: Nyles describing his past sexual encounters, shown in brief clips; Nyles pulling a bomb out of the wedding cake—“Don’t worry, I’m a bomb expert”— and blowing it up above the guests’ heads. Siara and Barbakow maintain an up-tempo pace throughout, never dwelling too long on existential issues or on any one joke or line, as in fellow wedding guest Roy’s (J.K. Simmons of 2014’s “Whiplash” fame) interchange with Nyles: “’You gotta find your Irvine.’ ‘I don’t have an Irvine.’ ‘We all have an Irvine.’” Southern Californians will understand.
The wedding party is laced with entertaining caricatures who display good comic timing.
The wedding and wedding reception backdrop to “Palm Springs” reveal characters and their pasts innovatively, in bits and pieces, not in a standard narrative, exposing a barren, upper-middle-class culture. The wedding party is laced with entertaining caricatures who display good comic timing, including another sister, Misty (Meredith Hagner, showing some of her mother’s, Goldie Hawn, moxie), and the father-of-the bride Harold (Peter Gallagher, well-known from TV’s “Law and Order” and many other series). Along with Darla, the tough broad at the country and western bar (the familiar character actress Dale Dickey), they add to the laughs without diluting the impact of the major characters and themes. It’s a strength of Siara and Barbakow’s that their film, while it plays with standard movie tropes, doesn’t turn into “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) or “The Wedding Planner” (2001). It’s not about a wedding.
“Palm Springs” is full of the familiar—a sex scene in the first minute; the woman who brings a potential partner out of his selfish man-child stage; revealing wedding speeches; the importance of love; superficial life versus authenticity; intimacy as a necessary ingredient to finding oneself; the angelic sister; the sexual ditz; the coke-snorting pals—and makes most of these tropes feel fresh and new.
What’s omitted from this review is the main conceit of the film, which would spoil it. For that, at least, get yourself a Hulu trial subscription. “Palm Springs” will make you laugh—even during Covid.
Availability: Streaming on Hulu only; see JustWatch here for any updates.
Stars: 3 (out of 4 stars)
Director: Max Barbakow
Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Peter Gallagher, Dale Dickey
Runtime: 90 minutes