When it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, time loop comedy Palm Springs tapped into the desperate feeling of isolation and need to escape indicative of the 24-hour news cycle of dread. The Max Barbakow film centers on a happy wedding in the titular California city—except self-loathing maid of dishonor Sarah (Cristin Milioti) and free-wheeling guest Nyles (Andy Samberg) are doomed to repeat the day ad infinitum after getting stuck inside a mysterious portal.
Now, five months after its debut, Palm Springs is premiering on Hulu with an even greater resonance, as we struggle through the endless monotony and solitude of life in quarantine. We all have the natural inclination to flee from a potential new normal, and Sarah tries everything—even jumping in front of a truck—to halt the hamster wheel and return to her old life. “You’re seeing a woman in pain who’s drowning in her shame and sitting with herself for the first time,” Milioti tells ELLE.com. “That’s always been relevant, but it’s taken on new meanings during this time. There’s nowhere to run right now.”
Yet Milioti, who’s similarly bound to a residence in the Golden State, thousands of miles from her Brooklyn home, sees an upside in this time of intense seclusion and cultural upheaval. “We’ve had to sit with ourselves,” she says. “I’ve gotten involved in a way I never have before, which I’m deeply ashamed about.” Unlike her alter ego, a woman who clings to her pain like a bad tattoo she refuses to cover up, the actress has rested her hope on a radical cultural shift that will force everyone to look at their actions in a new way.
The Grammy-winning, Tony-nominated actress and singer talks to ELLE about her own loneliness in quarantine, the upside of time loops, and bringing Sarah’s complex narrative to life.
How have you been coping with everything going on in the world these days?
I’m fucking horrified by how our country has handled COVID-19. The silver lining is that we’ve had to sit with ourselves. I think the actions that are occurring because of George Floyd and the countless other innocent Black people who’ve been murdered by police—I mean, this is no secret that this has been [happening]—[are because] we were forced to look at it. [Before], most people were distracted with work or school. [Quarantine] has allowed people to have conversations and take action in ways they wouldn’t have had time for and maybe wouldn’t have had the mental bandwidth for—which is no excuse, by the way.
But I’m incredibly hopeful and galvanized by it. It seems like change is occurring that is long-lasting. For me, as someone who’s wildly privileged and healthy and sitting in a house in Los Angeles, I’ve been able to get involved and learn about these systems and my own benefiting from them. That is going to be lifelong. For the first time in what feels like a very long time, I am experiencing hope.
Where are you finding your sense of hope right now?
The ways in which people have mobilized. Normally, I’d be on a set 16 hours a day, so [now], I’ve been to a lot of the Black Lives Matter protests out here in Los Angeles, and it is incredibly moving each time. People want to see change. People are tired of the way our government works. They are tired of seeing these injustices. It makes me feel that change is possible.
I see all these people in their early 20s and late teens at these protests—and by no means do I breathe easy, because we have such a long way to go—but their level of knowledge and organizational superpowers, it’s one of the few parts of our future I feel good about. I worry all the time that if I have kids, they’re going to see the same earth that I see. But then I’m like, Oh my god, we’re tearing down these systems of oppression. And my children, I hope and believe, are going to know a different world than I did. Because between the state of our planet and our administration and the amount of innocent lives [lost], whether to police brutality or to this fucking pandemic, it’s hard to have hope.
I’ve also been to a few protests, and while as a Black person I am filled with many different emotions, what I feel most profoundly is a sense of hope. And that is refreshing.
I can only speak from my own experience; everything I’m researching and reading and the ways in which I’m examining the part I’ve played in this system. I feel like I can unlearn it, and I’m so joyful about that. But it’s also harrowing because none of this information is new.
A lot of us have also found solace in the type of entertainment, like Palm Springs, that confronts or reimagines how we experience hope and pleasure in this dark world. What attracted you to the project, and what kind of preparation does it take to portray a woman stuck inside a reality-adjacent dimension?
The script was like nothing I’d ever read before. I loved that the character of Sarah was a full human. You see every single color of her spectrum. I did a lot of prep on her story before you meet her—I have my own ideas of her life and how she gets to where she is. I was trying to ground her as much as possible and best portray what this type of person would really do in this terrifying situation.
That’s the question I think resonates most as a viewer: She’s actively trying to get back to her own life and escape this monotonous wheel, without having a clear idea of what she’s running back to. What about this sense of normalcy is so appealing to her?
I don’t know if she would be able to return to normalcy. I think she wants to return to running away, which brings us back to what we were talking about before: return to what normal? I don’t want to return to that normal. I think within the constructs of this film, the “normal” she’s desperate to return to is a life where she numbs herself to her own pain and culpability for her actions. She doesn’t want to sit in what she’s done or what she could do differently. I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. I think that’s so human.
Oh yes, painfully so.
I think when we meet her, she’s in a state where she thinks her pain is a character trait. We sometimes mythologize our own pain, like, This is who I am. That’s not to say that pain isn’t real, but she’s choosing not to learn or grow from it. The safest [option].
This idea of normalcy in the real world is being abolished. But people like Sarah want to cling to it because it’s what they know. The question becomes: How do you embrace what you don’t know? I think that’s what Nyles is proposing.
Totally, except he’s also doing his own numbing. That’s what I love so much about—not to spoil anything—the arguments they have later in the film. They’re both using different tactics to ignore, for lack of a better term, their own shit. His personal tactic is to be like, “nothing matters.”
To his point, his preferred state of living allows them to revel in a world free of trauma and agony, which does have a certain appeal.
Like being able to do whatever you want?
Yeah! And being able to have a do-over—and hopefully make better choices on the next go round. Plus, no bills!
Yeah, I know. That montage is a real blast. Something Andy Siara, our screenwriter, does so brilliantly with that is, I actually think that’s what would happen. You would fight it and then you’d be like, Wait, I can do a bunch of fun stuff here. Nyles does say at one point, “We never age! We’re stuck in the body that we have now.” I get it. That part of it does appeal to me, honestly. But then I think that only lasts so long.
Do you think Sarah finds a sense of happiness by the end of the film, if that’s even what you think she’s looking for?
I’m going to tiptoe around this [because] what I love about this movie is not knowing where it’s going. One of the things Sarah says to Nyles toward the end is that she will be okay without him, but that she’s choosing him. That is incredible. Sometimes, movies portray [a message] that you’re not complete until you find the right person. Maybe that’s true for some people, but I find that to be problematic at best. We have to be okay with ourselves. You’ve got to love yourself first [before] you can love anybody else. I think she starts to learn to accept herself. I don’t think she ends up sitting on some lotus blossom like, I figured it all out. That’s one of my favorite parts about it.
Same. The movie really examines our profound sense of loneliness as well as our yearning for solitude—why some people prefer the company of their own selves while others are conditioned to crave other people.
That was important for me to bring out that shade of her. She’s terribly lonely.
I think for her it’s by choice, though. She’s alienated herself from others.
Oh, absolutely. She’s so ashamed of who she is, but so unwilling to look at that and quick to blame. That’s so human. She’s like, None of this is my fault. This happens to me. Of course, there are things beyond our control that happen to us, but that’s a huge part of life. I felt an enormous amount of compassion for that part of her.
I certainly feel like I know her, or I have been her at some point. I think we can all relate to her isolation on some level. As a live performer, how have you felt about not being able to take the stage?
One of my favorite things is being on a stage, either singing or acting or being a part of the communal experience as an audience member. I go to so many concerts each year and it’s like church. When you are at a good concert, and everyone is sort of breathing together as an organism and your hearts are swelling together, it’s so spiritual and holy. You surrender yourself to something that’s so much bigger than you. Not to get really witchy about it, but the music that’s coursing through that person is bigger than them. I miss it terribly. I want to go to every concert. I want to go see every movie. I want to wander into any live music performance in any dive bar. I just want it all.
Yeah, these seemingly little things matter so much now.
The first time it happens again, I’m going to be in tears the whole time.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
This commenting section is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page. You may be able to find more information on their web site.