When it comes to my favorite movies from the COVID-19 quarantine era, I rank “Palm Springs” very high. It is a phenomenal expression of the feeling of isolation, trying to communicate what’s going on inside oneself but feeling stuck behind a glass pane, attempting to explain what people outside just can’t understand. “Palm Springs” is truly an outburst of many emotions at once, with humor being the finest. It has two leads whom you actually want to see happy together because of their natural chemistry. Moreover, JK Simmons shows up and steals the movie for 10 minutes.

With its frenetic storytelling style, everything is constantly moving in the film. You lay back with your snacks and enjoy the ride Andy Samberg and Christin Miloti is putting you through. Now, whoever has seen “Palm Springs” knows that the concept it takes is nothing new or fresh. It is highly inspired by a Bill Murray classic, “Groundhog Day.” But you know what? I say that “Palm Springs” is a better existential absurd comedy than “Groundhog Day.” That’s right, folks. This is a hill I am willing to die on.

Now, hold up. Before you take out your knives and slash me in half for citing this appalling assessment, let me elucidate my stance. Also, before I proceed further, let me make it clear that “Groundhog Day” is a great film and a classic on its own. Yeah, it goes without saying, but it is just a personal opinion that “Palm Springs” does what it set out to do in a more competent way. How so? Let me explain.

Palm Springs Breathes a Fresh Air Into the Concept of Groundhog Day

Everyone who has seen both “Groundhog Day” and “Palm Springs” would bring up one point: that the latter can simply not exist without the former inventing the sub-genre. People would also raise points like, “Would you say Interstellar is better than 2001?”. First of all, I would never say that. Secondly, I would never undermine the influence of “Groundhog Day.” It still remains a popular mainstream comedy with fantasy elements. But hear me out.

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At its core, the movie is just about a cynical reporter who indulges in his cynicism until he becomes depressed and learns how to put others before himself. And yes, it is also about how people live the same routine every day. But you know what? That’s it. The movie is just that. Is the concept fresh and exciting? Yes, it is. Was it groundbreaking for 1993? Yes, definitely. But is the movie a masterpiece? Ahhh…I don’t think so.

Look, the concept is cool, but that’s that. “Palm Springs” takes this concept and breathes fresh air into it. It explores the same concept with a kind of irreverence which is unmistakably unhinged. Also, the film has more drama and human moments than in “Groundhog Day.” Yes, there, I said it. Nyles selfishly traps Sarah with his time loop. Sarah has an affair with the man her sister was to wed. Nyles and Sarah’s relationship develops over time, and they come to terms with living together in a time loop. Sarah, initially reluctant of the time loop and mostly frustrated with continuous failed attempts to get out of the time loop, eventually gets drawn towards Nyles, and their companionship fills the film with moments of warmth and love. The beauty of the film is that their relationship never feels contrived, and both learn to enjoy the time loop together.

On the contrary, “Groundhog Day” is Murray’s Phil’s solitary journey of self-discovery. Yes, we know he makes efforts to win over MacDowell’s Rita, but he is the only character aware of the time loop. The story is about his individual transformation where there are great funny scenes, but the human moments? Ehhhh, not so much. Murray’s charm is there to make you feel empathy, but the movie doesn’t have that edge when it comes to delivering emotional beats because it relies too much on Murray and his quirks. Despite all the fun quotient, there is emotional tension in “Palm Springs.” All of these people are flawed in interesting ways, and I dare say they are fleshed out more than “Groundhog Day.”

The Film Never Becomes The Palm Springs Show: feat Andy Samberg

Now, listen up, you “Groundhog Day” fans. Whether you admit it or not, “Groundhog Day” is a Bill Murray show through and through. He steals the spotlight in every single scene. The film sinks or swims on his back. But “Palms Springs” never becomes a one-person show. It has the combined magic powers of Andy Samberg, Christin Miloti, and JK Simmons. Hell, even the peripheral characters like Nyles’ girlfriend, Misty, are played with utmost finesse by Meredith Hagner.

 

The opening scene itself, where the dynamics of the relationship between Nyles and Misty are shown, is enough to have you in stitches. Again, I am not undermining “Groundhog Day.” Honestly, without Bill Murray, the movie can’t stand on its own. His deadpan delivery makes you laugh, but other characters don’t get enough opportunity to shine. But, in “Palm Springs,” Andy Samberg isn’t doing the heavy lifting alone. He is supported by a stellar cast who gave ample funny performances to steal the spotlight at that moment.

Groundhog Day Originated the Sub-genre, but Palm Springs Aced it

Palm Springs Groundhog Day
A still from Groundhog Day (1993) starring Bill Murray as Phil and Andie MacDowell as Rita.

The notion that a movie is automatically superior just because it originated a sub-genre is problematic, and it’s another hill I am willing to die on. Both “Groundhog Day” and “Palm Springs” do their job competently, but I think “Palm Springs” provides the viewers a more solid gateway into exploring the issue for themselves. “Groundhog Day” inspired “Palm Springs,” but I think the latter is more interesting, ponderous, and overall funnier. Let me explain how. Palm Springs’ brand of humor sets up the dynamics of the characters within the time loop. It is filled with wild energy from start to finish.

Andy Samberg is at his best. His chemistry with Christin Miloti is electric. As I mentioned earlier, the movie is extraordinarily irreverent and never takes itself seriously. On the other hand, “Groundhog Day” just has Murray’s brand of humor, which apparently requires high intellect, and a normie like me might not get it—speaking of “Palm Springs” being more ponderous than “Groundhog Day,” the former delves into the existential themes more profoundly.

Because at its core, “Groundhog Day” is merely a story of personal redemption. But in “Palm Springs,” all characters are troubled in a unique way. Sarah is tired of her family, especially her sister, but eventually learns to love her. Nyles is tired of his romantic relationship and wants to move on, but is stuck (literally and metaphorically). As both develop a relationship within the time loop, they learn to enjoy life despite its inherent pain and repetition. The movie gives a beautiful and hopeful message about existence through the struggles of its characters. Now, if you find Murray’s journey of self-discovery more ponderous than “Palm Springs,” then that’s on you.

Our Culture has had 30 years to assimilate Groundhog Day

Yes, another argument that people will come up with is “Groundhog Day” has more iconic moments than “Palm Springs.” Well, maybe, but our culture has had 30 years to assimilate “Groundhog Day.” So, yes, it obviously has iconic moments cemented into the public’s consciousness. But, hey, that is not to say, I am not laughing my ass off or getting emotionally warmed up whenever I watch “Palm Springs.” Nyles, sitting on his swimming float in the pool and wearing that Hawaii shirt and yellow shorts, is a peak of modern cinema iconography. Now, beat that Groundhog Day!

And, yes, there is no physical media for “Palm Springs” since it is a streaming movie. If Hulu decided to take the film off, it would be lost for hours. Movies like “Groundhog Day” became classics because of home media, VHS, and DVDs, and they never got lost for eternity. Anyway, I am moving in the wrong direction, which is a different critique altogether. However, my point here is to give “Palm Springs” some time, guys. Let the movie assimilate for a few years. Maybe after that, you will start empathizing with me.

Palm Springs has a better Rom-com Protagonist than Groundhog Day

My personal preference for rom-com protagonists is that they are failed optimists, not just cynics. I like my characters not always saying the right things. In fact, it would be all the better if they said the most inappropriate things in the worst situations. Now, Nyles is the protagonist shielding himself from taking a leap of faith. Nyles wants to find comfort in the lack of meaning. He is clearly a romantic, but then his girlfriend was cheating on him. He is afraid, so he wears a smile and enjoys the time loop. So, you see, the textbook failed optimist.

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On the contrary, Murray’s Phil’s entire arc is about changing himself into a loving person, and not because he was once a caring individual. He is always self-centered. He even hates the assignment he has been given and the townspeople. Phil is fully soaking in his cynicism when the movie starts, so you know what? That makes his character a little one-dimensional. That is also the reason Phil is unable to break the time loop- until he totally changes who he is. So, yes, in the competition for a better rom-com protagonist, Samberg’s Nyles wins by a huge margin, for me, at least.

Final Word

Once again, I assure you that “Groundhog Day” is an average movie. It is a classic and iconic. But but but, in my personal opinion, “Palm Springs” is more profound, funnier, sexier, utilizes more visually appealing, wittier, and is a better existential absurd comedy than “Groundhog Day.” I hope this article has given you enough reasons to elucidate why I believe so. If I were stuck in a time loop and were given a preference between “Palm Springs” and “Groundhog Day” to watch for the rest of my life, I would choose “Palm Springs” anytime, any day.

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