“It’s Groundhog Day, except…” is a fairly easy way of describing most movies that feature a time loop situation, it tells everyone exactly what to expect right off the bat. For example, Happy Death Day is “It’s Groundhog Day, except there’s a killer on the loose”. Well, when it comes to describing the charmingly simple The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things, I’m gonna go with “It’s Groundhog Day, except with teenagers”… yes I did just copy my entire opening paragraph from my Palm Springs review, there aren’t many ways to open a review that has a Groundhog Day premise and this film is good but not so good that I feel the need to try hard to come up with a great opening.
Some films require a lot of thought, you need to sit down with it to figure out what it meant by using a certain camera angle or how a certain line is a reference to a piece of ancient text that sets up something in the end. Some films are hard to write about because they’re so complicated that everything could easily be considered a spoiler. Then there are films like the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy which are just so easy going and sweet that you barely have to think about them, you can just enjoy them and not worry about them being anything more complicated than sweet little teen romance films that just barely approach the line of saccharine without fully crossing it.
Have you ever noticed how there are some movies that think they’re saying something smart, but’re in fact the dumbest pieces of shit you’ve ever seen? You know the kind of movie where you can almost hear the film theory teachers bouncing with excitement because they’ll get to show it to a class of bored 20 year olds who don’t get what’s so special about the film (because there’s nothing special about it) but want to pass so they make something up? The cinematic equivalent of a guy who wears glasses because he thinks it makes him look smart? Well, whatever list of films you just thought of, you can throw Bliss onto the list because this film really wants you to think that it’s brilliant but that would imply that it’s even worthy of thought.
During the last year, a lot of films and TV series have had to adapt to this strange new world of the pandemic. Some shows just stopped filming all together, others imposed strict rules to maintain safety. Watch a recent episode of Law & Order SVU and you’ll see large plastic barriers everywhere to protect the cast that had to be written into the text of the show. It’s also led to a lot of films being created from scratch to adapt to this new world of Covid.
You know, normally when I write one of these things, I like to think my feelings match the quality of a film. I like good films, I don’t like bad films and I can usually explain what they did wrong that I didn’t like. Even films that I’m in the middle about, the 2.5-star films that have no effect on me are ones I can express why it’s in the middle. Ammonite is different though, a first for me on this blog because it’s a film that I can look at and admit that it’s well made and well acted with an interesting story and a lot of elements that I have actively begged for in movies… but I just didn’t like it one bit.
“It’s Groundhog Day, except…” is a fairly easy way of describing most movies that feature a time loop situation, it tells everyone exactly what to expect right off the bat. For example, Happy Death Day is “It’s Groundhog Day, except there’s a killer on the loose”. Well, when it comes to describing the oddly relaxing Palm Springs, one could quite easily say “It’s Groundhog Day…. with a pool”.
Palm Springs takes place during a wedding at the titular Palm Springs where a boyfriend of one of the wedding guests, Nyles (Andy Samberg) ends up taking over a speech being given by Sarah Wilder (Cristin Milloti), saving her from drunken embarrassment. They end up sneaking away and going on a stroll together, having a good night out under the stars… when suddenly a man with a bow and arrow shoots Nyles who crawls his way into a nearby cave with a weird glowing light in it. Sarah follows him in there and the next thing she knows she’s waking up in her bed. Turns out that Nyles has been in a time loop for a while and the loop was caused by the weird light in the cave, so now Sarah and Nyles both have to just deal with living in a perpetual loop while trying to figure out how to end it.
Now, by the mention of a man with a bow and arrow you might assume that Palm Springs is kind of a Happy Death Day situation where they have to figure out who keeps trying to kill Nyles but no, no we learn quickly that it’s just a guy called Roy (J.K. Simmons) who also ended up in the loop and is just pissed at Nyles. In fact, truth be told, for most of the film there is no real antagonist or even plot, it’s just a pair of people who try to learn how to live through the same day over and over again until the final act when someone remembers “Oh shit, we need an ending” and they hurriedly come up with a way to put things right. It’s all very chill and relaxed and honestly, I kinda love it for that.
The repeated days are all very basic, the main characters don’t have to really repeat the same actions and since they spend most of the film away from everyone else it allows them time to grow without, oddly enough, getting repetitious. Watching this strange little relationship between Nyles and Sarah is the core of the film, a strange romance born out of being the only people (besides Roy) who are in this loop. Throughout the loops they learn more and more about each other and fall in love in a sweet albeit dorky way.
Palm Springs is a very simple little film, the most elaborate moments it has are when Roy turns up to have a moment of revenge on Nyles but he barely turns up, maybe two or three times at the most to be an actual threat to the main characters but outside that he’s not in the film as much as he could be. The film focuses, quite rightly, on where the emotional centre of the film is. Slowly it reveals more and more of the characters and of some of the family members around them (one particular revelation is brilliantly handled, not to spoil it but it does involve Sarah and happens about 2/3rds of the way through the film) and does so with easy charm.
Palm Springs is that kind of film that’s easy to watch but hard to talk about because it’s just really good. It doesn’t shoot too far, it knows its limits, it goes for being a good fun romcom and absolutely succeeds at that. Could I have used a little more Roy? Sure, hell you paid to have J.K. Simmons so why not use him? Could I have enjoyed a few more gutbuster lines? Sure, I mean the film was funny but could’ve gone further. Did I enjoy the film? Hell yes, it’s a good simple fun film that does what it needs to do to get the job done.
The idea of technology gaining sentience and turning evil is old hat at this point. Chances are good that you’ve seen something that’s used this as a foundation for the narrative, be it the iconic 2001 A Space Odyssey or the recent Child’s Play remake or even some episodes of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (the ones with either the killer Krusty doll or the Pierce Brosnan murder house). It’s a classic bit of Sci-fi that is usually just a twist on the old Frankenstein tale, in that a thing man created is what will actually destroy man. It’s a interesting little idea that can end up creating some interesting stories… unless you give the AI the voice of Bustopher Jones from Cats and then we might have a problem.
At the time I write this, I will have seen a little over 150 films so far this year. Considering that 2020 has been a roaring dumpster fire for cinema with every film seemingly moved to some point in the future, that’s not a bad total. Here’s a bad total though, out of those 150+ films you wanna take a guess how many of them featured an LGBT person as one of the named main characters? 15. 15! 15!! That’s one in every ten films that feature a character that openly identifies as either L, G, B or T.
In the romance genre there is an interesting variation that I will lovingly refer to as the “Oops, cancer” film. We’ve seen the story play out before numerous times, boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, either girl or boy gets terminal cancer in a way that’s handled with all the grace of the breast cancer reveal in The Room. Recent saccharine films with this story include I Still Believe, a film that was more about preaching the word of god than telling a story about a couple in love going against a powerful disease, and Irreplaceable You, which took the “Oops, cancer” moment and used it as a jumping off point for a film about a dying wife trying to set her husband up with someone to look after him when she’s gone. The films made with this “Oops, cancer” reveal currently take up a solid quarter of the lifetime TV movie schedule. It’s also a film trope that lives and dies on the charm and liability of its leads… so, how does All My Life fare? Better than most, but it still has problems.