'Palm Springs' Will Make You Want to Blow Up Your Own Destructive Patterns

Cristin Milioti, the star of Hulu's record-breaking film, talked to VICE about facing your own bad behavior, even when it feels like a real-life time loop.
20 July 2020, 6:38am
Palm Springs
Credit: Hulu

We all get trapped in our patterns, whether it's eating the same meal every morning or drinking until you pass out every night. Patterns can be destructive and hard to break. And if you're trapped in a _Groundhog Day-_esque time loop, where every day is the same no matter how many times you throw yourself in front of a truck, those patterns will be especially brutal to face.

That's the underlying theme of Palm Springs, Hulu's new sci-fi romantic comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. The film, which sold for $17.5 million and 69 cents (nice) at Sundance earlier this year and is now the streaming service's most-watched movie premiere ever, tells the story of nihilistic goofball Nyles who ends up trapped in a time loop on the day of his girlfriend's friend's wedding in Palm Springs after he wanders into a rip in the space-time continuum inside a mystical desert cave. Nyles (Samberg) has been living the same day over and over, getting wasted and hooking up with an assortment of wedding attendees for an undetermined amount of time, until Sarah (Milioti), the sister of the bride and a classic guarded fuck-up, ends up in the loop with him. Now they're trapped, reliving the wedding day over and over, until Sarah decides it's time to find a way out of the physical loop she's in—as well as the personal one. There are also some dinosaurs, quantum physics, a steamy love scene between Samberg and eyebrow king Peter Gallagher, and an exploded goat.

"No one could have predicted that when it came out, people would relate to it in a way of feeling like they were also stuck in a time loop and having to sit in some major discomfort," Milioti told VICE over the phone. She was calling from her friend's house in LA, where she's been staying since stay-at-home-orders were enforced. While she waits until she can go back to work on the HBO series Made for Love, the actress who played the sexy baby on 30 Rock and the mother on How I Met Your Mother has been spending her days walking her dog, Rupert; connecting with friends and family over video calls; and educating herself more about activism and racial justice. "I'm just trying to learn how to be a better citizen of the world, and a better ally, and a better person. There's just always room to learn," she said, immediately worrying if that sounded "stupid." It did not.

It's that same kind of introspection that Milioti brings to Sarah. She called Palm Springs an "existential comedy," where her character, in particular, has to confront the wrongs she's done and traumas that are still weighing her down, even though it completely sucks. As Sarah confides to Nyles, her family sees her "as a liability," someone who "fucks around and drinks too much," and that's because, as she immediately confirms, "I fuck around and drink too much." Once in the loop, she and Nyles further avoid confronting their own demons by engaging in dumb (and hilarious!) hijinks, like stealing an airplane, giving each other stick-and-poke dick tattoos, and performing a synchronized dance in matching jean jackets and red bandanas at a dive bar. It's after Sarah (spoiler alert!) has sex with Nyles that we learn she also slept with the groom the night before the wedding, and her feelings for Nyles help her decide to stop playing games, get out of the loop, and address her wrongdoings.

"I think when you have these destructive patterns—which, maybe some people don't have that in their life—but I think a huge part of growing up in the world is realizing how much of it is you; how much of it is 'the call is coming from inside the house'," said Milioti. "[The film] does this sort of with light hands, but the only way out of that is through. It's our life's work. You have to have the courage to sit there and face it, and it's not fun but it's necessary."

Even with a happy ending, Palm Springs doesn't lead the viewer to believe Sarah and Nyles are suddenly responsible adults and have it all together. "You just get the sense that this is going to be a process for this person for infinity, possibly, but that she's on the right path," said Milioti.

That glimmer of hope for all the fuck-ups makes the film not just a fun watch, but a little reminder that taking ownership and accountability of your actions, and making those steps to be a better person, is a lifetime process. But in the end, it's all worth it, even if a goat has to be exploded to get there.