[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for Palm Springs.]
Palm Springs — which is streaming now on Hulu — is absolutely one of the best films of the year, and that’s partly to do with it ending on the perfect note. But finding the right ending to the story did not come easy. Written by Andy Siara and directed by Max Barbakow, the film stars Andy Samberg as a man who’s been stuck in a time loop for a long time and accidentally brings another stranger – played by Cristin Milioti – into the loop with him. Together they forge a close relationship while also growing as individuals, and they slowly realize that maybe life is better with a buddy.
Time loop stories are tons of fun but incredibly hard to conclude, so when I spoke to Samberg and The Lonely Island team – which consists of Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone – for an extended interview on Collider Connected, I asked the trio about crafting the Palm Springs ending. The Lonely Island produced the film and had a pretty heavy hand in helping shepherd Siara and Barbakow’s vision, and it shows. Palm Springs is uproariously funny, but also incredibly sweet and surprisingly poignant.
But that poignancy wasn’t easy to come by. The film ends with Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) blowing themselves up inside the cave and seemingly breaking the time loop, as the screen cuts to black then shows them lounging in the pool of the nearby deserted house only for the family to arrive back home. Nyles says, “I guess they come back November 10th!” which appears to confirm the duo has finally made it to tomorrow.
When I asked The Lonely Island if the ending in the film is the one that was always in the script or if it was hard to come by, Samberg laughed heartily and revealed that they tried a number of different endings until they found the right one:
“Without saying what the other ones were, we definitely went through many drafts of the ending. Different versions. We even shot a few different versions. We re-edited it a few different ways, and kind of landed on what we had by way of doing like small friends and family screenings and polling people until we got to one where, three screenings in a row after the ending we said, ‘Did everyone like the ending?’ and everyone raised their hand. And we were like, ‘Alright, it might not be perfect but everyone liked it!’ (laughs).”
As they were attempting to find the most satisfying conclusion to the story, Samberg says they wanted one that appeased the three major parts of the film: the romantic comedy, the nihilism of the characters, and the tech-driven sci-fi:
“[We found the right ending] not for lack of trying. I would say what our goal was was since this movie is a blend of genres, we wanted an ending that felt satisfying for the romcom part of it, also not like a cop out for the nihilistic existential dread part of it, and also something that would be not complete gobbledygook for people who love sci-fi and were tracking the rules and the ins and outs and those types of things. So it was a very difficult needle to thread and obviously it would have been easy to push it further into any one of those three categories, and what we ended up with hopefully is the best version, which was satiating all three in some way, shape or form (laughs).”
I’ll admit when I first saw Palm Springs, I was loving the film but dreading the ending. Time loop stories are really difficult to nail in the end. But miraculously, Palm Springs pulls it off – the ending is great – and it’s kind of nice to hear that the filmmaking team worked really hard to find the ending that’s currently in the movie.
And I agree with Samberg’s assessment that it nails all three of the major themes of the film. Nyles and Sarah are together, concluding the romcom part of the movie; but they’re also spending the first day of the rest of their lives just hanging out in a stranger’s pool talking about picking up Nyles’ dog, which doesn’t betray the existential nihilism that brought Sarah and Nyles together in the first place; and finally the film makes clear that Sarah really did learn quantum physics in order to figure out how to break out of the time loop.
The cherry on top, however, is the dinosaurs in the background in the film’s final shot. That added bit of ambiguity and mystery doesn’t let the story wrap up in too neat of a bow, and that’s what makes Palm Springs so special in the first place. It’s consistently surprising. Surprising from a story perspective (Nyles has already been in the loop for years when we meet him), character perspective (Sarah is complicated and fallible and imperfect instead of a cookie cutter “love interest”), and thematic perspective (It’s a film about how existence is only meaningful with other people). I’m hesitant to say it’s a perfect movie, but boy is it incredible.
Check out my full 40-minute interview with The Lonely Island for more on Palm Springs, their SNL Digital Shorts, Hot Rod and Popstar.