Palm Springs
Credit: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Marriage is merely 'til death do us part; what about sharing an actual eternity? That’s the fateful loop Nyles (Andy Samberg) finds himself stuck in in director Max Barbakow’s surreal Sundance sensation, a sort of sun-baked metaphysical rom-com and millennial Groundhog Day rolled into one.

Technically Nyles is only a plus-one at the wedding he’s in Palm Springs to attend, which makes it that much odder that he seems so comfortable wearing a sloppy Hawaiian shirt to the ceremony, or commandeering the mic when the bride’s black-sheep sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti) slow-walks her maid of honor speech.

Soon, though, we know why: Nyles has already been here many, many times before. Thanks to some trick of fate or quantum physics, he’s trapped in a wormhole that continually sends him back to this same cursed Saturday — and when Sarah unwittingly follows him into the breech, she has to find out the hard way just stranded they really are.

The movie, which made headlines earlier this year as the most expensive acquisition in the festival’s history (by 69 cents), is coproduced by Samberg and his Lonely Island mates Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, and it's not hard to trace Springs' DNA back to the loose California-kid absurdity their sketches for SNL often shared.

Samberg nimbly walks the line between slacker cartoon and actual frustrated human, and he's boosted by a smart cast that includes Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Riverdale's Camila Mendes, and Meredith Hagner (Search Party) as Nyle’s perfect vocal-fry nightmare of girlfriend.

But it’s Cristin Milioti who feels most like the revelation here; as great as she’s been in brief turns on shows like Black Mirror and 30 Rock, she shines when given the chance to lead — even if her meerkat sweetness hardly seems like an obvious fit for the self-loathing Sarah, with her wayward bed-hopping and beer for breakfast.

Both leads’ charms go a long way toward papering over certain stumbles in Andy Siara's script, which tends to lean on sitcom setups and the kind of quick-fire banter that seldom exists outside of a certain school of self-aware screenwriting.

For all its oral-sex jokes and slapstick-ish swerves into violence, Palm Springs never feels as committed to real ugliness as another recent study in modern being-and-nothingness, the similarly stylized Ingrid Goes West.

At its core, the movie is too in love with love — or at least its messy, time-jumping ideal of it — for that kind of true discomfort comedy. That makes it less brave, maybe, but in this moment we're living in, who could begrudge a happy ending? B+

(Palm Springs begins streaming Friday on Hulu.)

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