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.
So, we’re approaching the final quarter of the year. The home stretch. The time when the fat lady starts warming up so she can hit the high note. The point when everyone should have started working on the “Good Fucking Riddance 2020” banners that we will all be hanging up because this year has been, to quote Jake Tapper, a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck. This has definitely been reflected in what has been available at the cinema.
Some sex comedies question the human condition and our reliance on the act that the French call “the little death” in order to create a connection, some sex comedies mock the societal hangups we have regarding the act that is required to create life and some sex comedies point at some of the absurd elements of the sexual act itself… then there are the sex comedies that appear to be written by people who have never even heard of the concept of sex and wouldn’t know what to do if you handed them written instructions regarding what parts go where. That’s the best way I can explain something as completely unfunny as A Nice Girl Like You.
Sometimes, you just want to watch a film where you know the ending before the movie even starts. You just want something that’s safe and digestible, something that you can call the ending absolutely perfectly from the second that you hear the basic setup. In this turbulent world where every day feels like a month and every one of those day-months feels like a free flowing fountain of frenetic feelings, sometimes you just want stability. You want a film you can set your watch to, pop it on and know every step on the way and know that it’s going to be a fun ride. You want a guarantee… Love, Guaranteed.
2019 brought the hit series After to cinemas and… it was awful. A bland flavourless movie that only exists because the One Direction fanfiction it’s based on did well online. It made about $12 million on a $14 million budget and in a fair world that would mean the series died there… of course, that’s just the domestic total. Worldwide, After made (I swear I’m not joking here) $69 million and therefore it was going to get a sequel. Now, the first film was spectacularly bland so surely the second film is going to be just as bland right? Right?
…So, this is somehow less original than 50 Shades of Grey and a lot less interesting.
On August 24th, video emerged of Jacob Blake being shot 7 times in the back by police officers. He was not resisting arrest, he was not armed, he was not in any way a danger to the officers. He was getting into his car after breaking up a fight and was shot by police 7 times IN THE BACK (that ‘in the back’ part is why I’m not going to be hearing your counter arguments on this. not kidding, don’t bother trying to justify this, you can not). Now, fortunately (at the time I type this) Jacob survived this attempted murder by the police, although he is paralysed from the waist down but he is just another in a long line of unarmed black men who have been shot by police who disproportionately shoot unarmed black men.