Hulu gave us a nice surprise this weekend with the release of Palm Springs, a refreshingly clever take on the Groundhog Day concept from director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Saria. I wrote my review of it yesterday and you can find it here:
The sci-fi comedy originally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and reviews have been impressive (to the tune of a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating). Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, the RT score for Springs easily eclipses that of The King of Staten Island at 72%. The latter has been mentioned for potential awards attention – albeit in a long shot fashion.
So could this even more acclaimed pic be a contender? Unlikely, but you never know in this highly unusual 2020. If Springs were to vie for any prize, I feel Original Screenplay would be its best hope. The story could be different when it comes to the Golden Globes. That’s where the genres of Drama and Musical/Comedy are divided. Depending on the competition coming in the last half of this long year, both Samberg and especially Milioti (in a breakout role) could at least be on the minds of Globes voters.
I know one thing. Based on my very positive reaction to it, I think it should at least be considered. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Maybe it’s possible that the idea of living the same day over and over again is just something that resonates during these strange COVID-19 times. Or maybe Palm Springs really is a fresh and highly satisfying take on the Groundhog Day concept. I think it’s the latter and what a pleasant surprise.
You cannot have this plot without thinking of the incomparable Bill Murray comedy. The concept has repeated itself in the action and horror genres with Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day. Springs plays with the formula in unexpected ways. Another SNL alum headlines with Andy Samberg as Nyles. He’s the aimless boyfriend to younger Misty (Meredith Hagner) and he’s tagging along to her friend’s wedding in the title town. We realize quickly that something is really off with his behavior. It turns out that he’s already well along the way into his time loop and has been living this day repeatedly. This is the first realization that the screenplay from Andy Siara is playing by a different set of rules by dispensing with the origin story of Nyles’s Groundhog Day. This is a welcome change.
Sarah (Cristin Milioti, tough and sometimes vulnerable and terrific in this role) is the sister of the bride. She’s got character flaws equal to Nyles that aren’t because of the time loop. Yet that quickly changes when she joins him on the endless day. What follows is the duo attempting to figure out just what the heck is happening (the science fiction elements involve a mysterious cave and a goat).
They are occasionally joined in their adventure by another wedding guest Roy (J.K. Simmons, engaging as always) who got sucked into the vortex. It’s also possible that Nyles and Sarah are slowly – very slowly – falling in love. Or is it just that they only have each other in this untenable scenario?
The less said about how the plot rolls along the better. There are genuine revelations that I didn’t see coming, but it all fits into this clever version of a well-worn tale. This is the best Samberg has been on film and Milioti easily equals his work. We see this budding romance develop over many days, albeit the same one. As a credit to the whole team involved, it’s a lot of time well spent.
Upstart distributor Aviron Pictures hopes to bring in young romantics this weekend with After. Based on a 2014 novel by Anna Todd, the college set drama casts relative unknowns Hero Fiennes-Tiffin (nephew of Ralph) and Josephine Langford. Jenny Gage directs with costars including Selma Blair, Peter Gallagher, and Jennifer Beals.
As mentioned, Aviron is a new player in the business. Their first effort, 2017 Halle Berry thriller Kidnap, exceeded expectations a bit. Their previous release before this – Serenity – was an embarrassing flop.
This may fall somewhere in the middle. Its approximate 2000 screens is the lowest of the four new releases this weekend. It might be lucky to hit $5 million and probably won’t. That’s nothing special at all, but its budget has to be fairly small.
2016’s BadMoms took its concept of three frazzled matriarchs letting loose and rode that wave to high box office bucks. As far as its quality, I felt it was a rather mediocre exercise that often unsuccessfully blended raunchy with pathos. Yet moviegoers turned out so now we have ABadMomsChristmas, in which it turns out the bad moms from part 1 all have questionable ones themselves.
Our original trio is feeling the natural stress that comes from holiday planning. Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) decide to throw caution to the wind and not go crazy with the season’s headaches… other than the ones that their drunken mall trip hangovers might induce. Circumstances are altered when their mamas turn up. Christine Baranski is Amy’s control freak mom, Cheryl Hines is Kiki’s super clingy mom, and Susan Sarandon is Carla’s wild and distant mom.
The week leading to Christmas gives all three subplots time for arguments and making up, as well as Santa stripping shows and bonding over butthole waxing. That’s about as deep as we get from writer/directors Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, who are once again tasked with creating a shallow and surface level comedic dive into the female psyche.
ABadMomsChristmas doesn’t go full throttle with its cartoonish aspects and doesn’t earn the attempted sentimentality it tries toward the end. What’s left is a sequel with less laughs than the first and the bar wasn’t exactly high. Among the cast, Hines comes off the best because she’s at least convincing as she apes daughter Bell’s look and mannerisms.
It’s tough for comedy sequels to succeed because most of them aren’t planned and feel rushed to capitalize on the success of what came before. This is yet another example.