By Lynn Venhaus
One of the best surprises of the current year in film, “Palm Springs” is an inventive, genial romantic comedy with an edge. (Warning frank sexual dialogue and content).
Nyles (Andy Samberg) is with his girlfriend at a wedding in Palm Springs when he meets Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the reluctant maid of honor forced to be at her sister’s wedding. She’s the family black sheep and a skeptic when it comes to true romance but is drawn to Nyles’ wacky sense of humor and darkly comic nihilism.
Like “Groundhog Day,” Nyles is sucked into a surreal time-space continuum, repeating this same date. He warned her not to follow him into a cave…
Written and directed by first-timers – a remarkable combination of director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara, it builds on the time-travel concept in a manner like “Groundhog Day” but does not follow the same trajectory.
The wedding setting is inspired and fertile ground for comedy – what with family dynamics, quirky relatives, young adults with a lot of baggage already and always people with secrets, combined with the time-honored rituals of American nuptials and receptions. I mean, it is comedy gold, and you have someone who is a zen master at it, Andy Samberg.
I always enjoyed the goofy Samberg as an off-kilter presence on “Saturday Night Live” from 2005 to 2012, his digital shorts and his clever work with Lonely Island. Although the 2016 comedy “Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping” is highly underrated, I never considered his acting on the same level as breakouts Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon, but he is terrific here. He is just the right blend of world-weary and devil-may-care. He also proves to be a suitable romantic lead – who knew? – and his offbeat pairing with Cristin Milioti, also not your typical romantic interest — even though she was the “Mother” in “How I Met Your Mother” (Spoiler alert for a TV show that ended in 2014), energizes the movie.
Samberg’s wacky charm is his strength, so you go with the premise, even when all time-travel segments have plot holes – but don’t dwell on that. Just enjoy.
Milioti, a Tony nominee as the immigrant who falls for the broke Irish musician in “Once” the Broadway musical, is such a good actress, capable of expressing the gamut of emotions her character goes through. You root for this couple, who have such a blast together dealing with the gimmick.
Look for the movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, to be considered for this season’s awards — it’s that sharp and witty.
It also benefits from such pros as Peter Gallagher as father of the bride, J.K. Simmons as a wedding guest, Tyler Hoechlin as the compromised groom and a brief appearance by June Squibb as Nana, always delightful.
Fresh and fun, “Palm Springs” is a tidy 90-minute ride full of humor, unexpected turns and sweetness.
“Palm Springs” is a romantic comedy not rated that is 90 minutes long. It is directed by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara, and stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Tyler Hoechlin and June Squibb. It is streaming on Hulu, beginning July 10.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.