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The Movie That Truly Captured 2020? Palm Springs

The year we all got stuck in a time loop

Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti

No one really came into 2020 with high expectations. The last half-decade had been rough, what with the Trump of it all, the climate change, the global uncertainty, systemic racism, sexual assault reckoning and, I don’t know, that weird Transformers movie with King Arthur in it, we were already tired and broken. Even so, no one expected this year to be this bad. No one expected … this.

In that way, we went into 2020 feeling a lot like Sarah (Cristin Milioti) in the movie Palm Springs when she headed to her sister’s wedding. We weren’t doing great before we got trapped in an endless, disconcerting time loop from which there seems to be no escape, but we couldn’t have guessed how weird things would get.

Palm Springs is the movie of 2020 for a myriad of reasons. Palm Springs started 2020 strong, setting a record at Sundance for the most money ever paid for a film. It broke the record by a cheeky $.69 and seemed destined for very big things … and then, COVID. But the movie ended up on Hulu, in a place where we all could safely and easily watch it. Maybe even more easily than if it had been given a traditional indie release. The fate of Palm Springs, and its success, is one of many examples of how 2020 and the pandemic have changed movie releases and Hollywood forever.

But it’s the story of Palm Springs, of course, that really resonates with us in 2020. Even though it wasn’t made about 2020, Palm Springs captured so much of the spirit of the year so well. Despite luxurious trappings, we were stuck alone, in stasis, sometimes lucky enough to be with others, but sometimes not. But the defining part of our year was isolation.

When Nyles (Andy Samberg) accidentally traps Sarah in his own personal time loop hell, it certainly works as a metaphor for all the people who have been spreading COVID just because they were tired of being alone and wanted to hang out with people. And then they ended up like most of us: isolated, lonely, confused, questioning how and why this all had to happen .. and finding some hope in the connections you make with people even under the worst circumstances.

I loved Palm Springs because it wasn’t just another time loop comedy, it was about human connection and resilience. It was about one person who wasn’t content to sit still for eternity and decided to change herself and her life so she could break free of her bad cycles, and another person who was fine with never move on with his life because he was complacent and afraid. He found the bravery to break out of that loop because of love and trust in another person. And a combination of science and a leap of faith save the day.

And that’s really where we’re all at now. We all became both Nyles and Sarah at some point this year. We indulged. Ate lots of carbs and embraced some nihilism because really what is the point when things are this bad? Some days we were even Roy (J.K. Simmons) filled with rage at the people that put us here, wanting to hunt them down and set them on fire. And maybe we also found some peace with how we were trapped and with who. But I think that if we learned anything from the pandemic and Palm Springs, it may be the ways we need to go above and beyond, and outside of what is comfortable in order to take care of people, even the people we love.

One day, thanks to science and patience and not going to weddings, we’ll be out of this. One day we’ll look back at this year and think of how it changed everything, and how for so many of that these huge changes happened as we were isolated, angry, lonely, and hurt. And I think Palm Springs will help us understand that.

(image: Hulu)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.