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Why Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti got over rom-com jitters for 'Palm Springs'

Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are having a hard time wrapping their brains around the fact that their oddball sci-fi-romantic-comedy "Palm Springs" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival less than six months ago. Given how much the world has been upended since then, it feels more like six years ago.

"That was the last time I was in a movie theater with tons of people, sitting in a dark space experiencing a story together," Milioti said by phone last week from her temporary home in Los Angeles, where she has been staying since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from returning to her home in New York. "I'm so deeply thankful I got to experience that."

This is a deeply weird time, to be sure. But in a way, it couldn't be a more fitting moment for a movie like "Palm Springs," in which time itself gets deeply weird. In the genre-scrambling film, which will be released via streaming on Hulu and in a handful of drive-in movie theaters Friday, Samberg and Milioti play Nyles and Sarah, a pair of disaffected guests at a wedding in Palm Springs who find themselves caught in an infinite time loop and are forced to relive the same day over and over again. Think the 1993 Bill Murray comedy "Groundhog Day," but R-rated and, well, weirder.

"Palm Springs" became one of the breakout hits of Sundance, selling to Hulu and indie distributor Neon for a stunning $17.5 million (reportedly breaking the previous record held by the 2016 drama "The Birth of a Nation" by 69 cents). Samberg, whose "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" is expected to return this fall for its eighth season, and Milioti, who earned a Tony Award nod for her work in the musical "Once," have each drawn raves for their work in the film, which Samberg produced with Lonely Island partners Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.

For "Palm Springs" director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara, who are each making their feature debut with the picture, it's been a head-spinning turn of events. "The film was very much born out of this bizarro process of creative therapy," Barbakow says. "Its DNA is not simple -- it kind of meanders and touches a lot of different genre elements. We were so lucky to find partners who saw what was special about it and went into it for the same reasons we did."

The Times spoke with Samberg, 41, and Milioti, 34, about shaking up rom-com conventions, mining existential angst for laughs and coping with the profound strangeness of these times.

 

This movie might look like a traditional romantic comedy on the surface, but it really blends different genres and deals with some serious emotional and relationship issues. Was it always clear to everyone what the tone would be?

Milioti: Yeah, I always thought of it as an existential comedy as well. I mean, there's absolutely a love story at the center of it, but it also spoke to these bigger themes of what we're doing with our time on this planet, trying to escape yourself, having to practice acceptance of who you are and taking responsibility. That's one of my favorite parts about it. I think it's an amalgamation of many things, as well as being so funny and moving.

Samberg: Agreed. And I will say, everyone who was attracted to the project did see it similarly and that was kind of why it all congealed well. It's a small movie -- no one was doing it for a paycheck, as (costar) J.K. Simmons kept telling me.

It was just something that everyone believed in. We were all really excited about the genre blending and the sort of up-and-down nature of it, going from really arch comedy to existential dread to hopefully resonant romantic connection to self-forgiveness. Not to mention a full-on sci-fi-fantasy element, which was another big part of why I thought it was fun.

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