“I don’t know what it is.,” explains Nyles to Sarah. “It could be death. It might be a dream. I may be imagining you. You might be imagining me. This could be purgatory or a glitch in the simulation we’re both in, I don’t know. So, I decided a while ago to stop trying making sense of things altogether because the only way to really live in this is to embrace the fact that nothing matters.”
“Then what’s the point of living?,” Sarah asks
“Well, we don’t have a choice but to live, so I think your best bet is just to learn how to suffer existence,” replies Nyles.
The above dialogue takes place in the raucous, and refreshingly inventive new romantic comedy “Palm Springs” that couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time – for we – like Nyles and Sarah – are caught in an existential time loop of isolation and repetitiveness where yesterday, today and tomorrow seem to all merge into one. It’s quite poignant and refreshing that the characters are speaking in this way about the situation they find themselves in. This wildly funny movie might unfold at a warp speed pace and be nimble at its feet – nevertheless it finds moments of introspection and philosophizing that elevates it to one of the best comedies and makes it essential cinema. The less you know about the plot the better. Nyles (Andy Samberg) and reluctant maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) meet at a Palm Springs wedding, and find themselves unable to escape the venue, the same day and each other.
I should disclose that I have known Max Barbakow, the wunderkind who directed this film – since he was in middle school at Crane School here in Santa Barbara – and it brings me great pride to see him achieve this well-earned success. The movie – which is available today on Hulu – has received unanimous positive reviews – and the New York Times named it today its critic’s choice. After “Palm Springs” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Hulu and Neon Films purchased the film for the largest sum in Sundance history.
Barbakow and his screenwriter Andy Siara have taken the time loop movie genre – “Groundhog Day” being its north star – and created something renewed that makes you giddy with its resourcefulness and originality – yet gut punches you with its exploration of loneliness, fear of intimacy and commitment – and the intangibility of happiness. They have upped the ante by instead of having just one person being caught in the quagmire – they’ve added a second one. It’s not so much that they have reinvented the wheel – they have figured out a way to turn this old premise into a Tesla.
I should also point out that Barbakow knows movies – and one of the many great pleasures of watching this film is to see how he’s absorbed his cinematic influences. Observe early on a scene where Nyles dances at a wedding – and Barbakow pays homage to Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty.” All the repetition which never gets tiring must have been quite a feat to direct and particularly edit – and Barbakow masters it all with aplomb and gusto.
Andy Samberg is Nyles -and he’s a surprise. We knew he could handle comedy but it’s when the movie pivots to the moments of introspection where we see his previously untapped range. Cristin Milloti as Sarah gives probably the craziest and darkest romantic female lead performance. J.K Simmons – in a role I will not spoil by describing – is phenomenal.
This is a must-see movie this Summer. If you don’t have a Hulu subscription, get one.
Nyles: “Nothing worse than going through this shit alone.”
Available to stream on Hulu.
Screenplay by Andy Siara. Story by Max Barbakow and Andy Siara.
Directed by Max Barbakow
Starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Peter Gallagher and J. K. Simmons
Writing “Palm Springs”
“…when Siara first wrote “Palm Springs” during his second year as a film student at AFI, it didn’t have the sci-fi component. In fact, when he initially conceived of the story with fellow AFI classmate Barbakow, the pair were reticent of bigger-budget storytelling. “The week after we graduated, we were like, ‘Okay, let’s make something that we can actually make, that is small and contained, tiny budget, one location, maybe a couple of locations,” Siara said. While the script gestated, Siara served as a writer on “Lodge 49,” a since-canceled TV show that has garnered some measured of a cult following, and he came to terms with the prospects of turning “Palm Springs” into a more ambitious concept. “I still have that ‘Jurassic Park’ part of me,” he said, referencing his favorite childhood film. “I needed something bigger. That’s where I drifted away from a tiny-budget mumblecore movie to adding this idea of a cave, which then sent the story in a different direction.” It was that version of “Palm Springs” that impressed the Lonely Island team and secured Samberg’s involvement. “Andy gets this character far more than maybe even I get the character, and I created the character,” Siara said. “Having those guys come in and having Andy lead this thing, it honestly legitimized it. They helped us take the script from 70 percent completion, in a sense, to what ended up on screen.”
Siara had talked to “at least” nine other directors before he met Barbakow at a bar to chat. “We had some beers and talked about Pavement and The Replacements,” Siara said, invoking the two groups that inspired his own band’s distinctive sound. While Siara admits to being torn on the true value of film school (the financial boundaries it can put up are top of mind, and Siara has no bones admitting he’s still in debt for his two years of grad school), it’s easy to draw a straight line from his classes and experiences to what would become “Palm Springs.” “There were a couple of classes that really forced us to dig into certain parts of our psyche and our subconscious and break down stories on a Jungian level,” Siara said. “I was in one class with Max where we talked about our greatest moment of shame, our greatest moment of fear, our greatest moment of love. I shared that with Max, that’s where this movie came from, it was born out of conversations between me and Max, then I would just go off and write from this splattering of ideas.” (indiewire.com)
Bringing “Palm Springs” to the Screen
MAX: “When we first really started talking about the film, we went to AFI FEST that year and I remember seeing THE LOBSTER and ANOMALISA on the same day. Those are two offbeat love stories about loneliness – I don’t know how much you can see that in our movie – but I remember thinking, “Okay, there is something to draw from in here, the energy in it.” And it’s thanks to AFI FEST.”
ANDY: “On the writing side, there was a song that John Cale and Brian Eno did called, “Spinning Away.” When I heard that, it was a clarifying moment – because somehow when you hear the right song, you can see the movie through that lens. It brings the movie to a different level. We didn’t even use that song – we couldn’t find a place for it in the movie – but I know that song in particular unlocked certain creative avenues.”
MAX: “We spent a lot of time on the script and did a polish with Andy. And when Cristin came in, we did some rehearsing too and the actors made it their own. Everyone was on the same page on a script level and the structure is very intricate, so there wasn’t a lot of improvisation, but with these actors, you have let them do it in their own words and allow them to collaborate and make it better. On the day, in the moment, there were little changes, but the scenes didn’t really change. We were block shooting locations, so we shot a lot of alts just to have, which is kind of insane because our schedule was very short and there wasn’t a lot of time. We did pick up some extra stuff that wasn’t scripted but still what we had talked about beforehand.” (afi.com)
Making Festival History
“Andy Samberg reflected on the sale of his comedy Palm Springs at the Sundance Film Festival while visiting NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon… Following the film’s recent premiere at the fest, Neon and Hulu landed worldwide rights to Palm Springs for $17,500,000.69. That figure breaks the previous record for the biggest sale ever at Sundance — by 69 cents — which was held by 2016’s “The Birth of a Nation.” “When you get offers on a movie, you stay up until five in the morning negotiating and stuff,” Samberg explained about the process. “It was Neon and Hulu who are the ones that ended up buying it, and they came in with an offer that was very high. It was an amount that would match the highest sale ever at Sundance.” In addition to starring in Palm Springs, Samberg produced the pic alongside his Lonely Island collaborators Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. During the negotiation process to sell the rights for the film, Samberg and Schaffer decided they wanted the transaction to go down in history. ” I was like, ‘Well, we should maybe ask to throw on a dollar more and then make it the highest sale ever,'” recalled Samberg. “And Akiva was like, ‘No, no, no. We should ask for 69 cents more. I was like, ‘Yes, that’s right.”‘ (hollywoodreporter.com)
About Director Max Barbakow
Max is a director/writer/mammal. PALM SPRINGS, his narrative feature debut, stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons. It premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by NEON and Hulu for an upcoming theatrical release. THE DUKE: BASED ON THE MEMOIR “I’M THE DUKE” BY J.P. DUKE, Max’s thesis at the AFI Conservatory, where he earned his MFA in Directing, premiered at Tribeca, won awards at Hamptons and Reykjavik IFF, and was shortlisted for a BAFTA Award. He also wrote and directed MOMMY, I’M A BASTARD!, an autobiographical feature documentary about his adoption. Max is a graduate of Yale University. He also trained with Werner Herzog at Escuela Internacional de CineTV in Cuba. He will next direct GOOD BAD & UNDEAD, starring Peter Dinklage and Jason Momoa, for Legendary Pictures. (maxbarbakow.com)