exterior goofiness cannot mask a fundamental dearth of wit. Such a debilitating problem to have is further exacerbated by the way the movie is way too long at 123 minutes, and how it overdoes it with middle-act dramatic flourishes.
Eurovision, co-written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele and directed by David Dobkin, is about an aspiring Icelandic pop group comprised of Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. (Both are spectacularly bewigged.) They're going nowhere — they're total wannabes — but then a grisly coincidence helps get them a spot at the beginning of the film in the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest. It's a milestone they’ve dreamed of since they were tots. (Before the onset of the coronavirus, distributors had planned for the movie to come out at the same time the real-life version of the competition commenced.)
Disarray inevitably ensues during rehearsals and the competition itself, though not in the über-goofy way you would expect a classic-era Ferrell-starring comedy to. He cannot — like anyone else in the movie — distract from the film’s rather algorithmic rhythms. A shame — one can imagine this conceit executed with the irreverence and AirplaneI (1980)-liteness of the Anchorman movies and have a good time doing that imagining. But one will not get what might have been imagined. This is a better movie to think about than actually experience. I’ll admit that the songs, nicely zippy and with the singing digitally enhanced in the recognizable Glee mode, effectively mimic the general sounds that spring from the Eurovision world. Demi Lovato, fitted hysterically in a Donatella Versace wig, is just right, if used too sparingly, as a doomed competitor. But Eurovision is so without spark, it’s like a pop song without a danceable rhythm. It’s an arhythmic comedy.
urovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) doesn’t have any laughs. When it’s angling to be funny, what it’s really doing is equating looking and sounding funny with being funny. But
feeling of re-living the same day. Look in the direction of the pretty perfect black comedy Groundhog Day (1993), the stellar action comedy Edge of Tomorrow (2014), or the slapstick slasher movie Happy Death Day (2017). Once in a while you might get a grounded (no pun intended) movie like 2016’s Paterson where the protagonist isn’t experiencing nightmarish déjà vu but might as well be, because his life is so circular. New Hulu comedy Palm Springs (2020) makes for another entry into the déjà-vu-centric, Groundhog Day-adjacent comedy sphere; this time it’s a wedding getting attended an infinite number of times. The timing of the film's release is inadvertently poignant in these times of self-isolation and minimal face-to-face contact — it seems especially geared toward people like me: those feeling particularly gripped by the ennui of a routine as the coronavirus maintains its stronghold over the world. Palm Springs is ultimately a well-executed take on a by-now well-worn conceit, with just the right amount of requisite bittersweetness; I’m not sure, though, it’s as close to reaching greatness as its biggest proponents claim.
Palm Springs, written by Andy Siara and directed by Max Barbakow, seems at first a prototypically chaotic matrimonial comedy à la A Wedding (1978) or Wedding Crashers (2005), where big-day anarchy is brought on by one or two people in particular. One of the rabble-rousers seems to be Nyles (Andy Samberg), the boyfriend of one of the bridesmaids, Misty (Meredith Hagner). He doesn’t want to be here. He drinks too much, is prickly with other guests, and, when it’s time for the maid of honor, sister of the bride Sarah (an excellent Cristin Milioti), to give her speech, Nyles, clad in a citrus-palleted Hawaiian shirt and canary-yellow swim trunks, grabs the mic. (Luckily, the speech turns out to be quasi-poetic, even though Nyles doesn’t really know anyone attending the ceremony; it’s also a life-saver, because Sarah was drinking a lot and didn’t realize she was going to have to make a speech.)
Nothing’s ruined, though there could be trouble in paradise for the already mismatched Misty and Nyles when the latter begins a flirtation with Sarah. (Misty, as shown in previous scenes, obviously does not like her boyfriend, though she likes him enough to cheat on him rather than completely break things off.) Nyles and Sarah hit it off quickly, and decide to sneak away. The excitement of the rendezvous is cut short, though, when we discover that Nyles hasn’t been totally transparent with his prospective one-night stand. He is actually, if you can believe it, inside what can only be described as a time loop, and has been for God knows how long. He’s gone to this wedding so many times that these days he can hardly remember what he had been up to before the big day. Sarah accidentally gets stuck in the loop too when she wanders into the same spot — the mouth of an off-site cave — that apparently possesses the mystical powers necessary to have thrust Nyles into this vicious cycle.
Palm Springs shoots for what we think it will shoot for. These unhappy people will fall in love because how couldn’t you when you’re the only ones literally living the same day over and over again? Fortunately there’s wit and charm to spare; the film is familiar but not so much so that it drags. It’s fun to watch our leads wreak havoc on guests who won’t remember what had happened the next day in the early stages of the movie. They have an easygoing rapport. There’s a just-right nihilism to both Nyles and Sarah (she agrees with her family that she’s “a liability who drinks and fucks around too much”) that ensures the laughs leave marks. “What if we get sick of each other?” Sarah asks at one point. “We’re already sick of each other — it’s the best,” Nyles drily responds.
It can’t be a coincidence that the protagonists of Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day were similarly sharp-witted and fatalistic even before being locked in a temporal hamster wheel. Maybe you really have to have a knowing sense of humor to better survive — and entertain your audience — when you’re leading a time-loop comedy. When the movie inexorably moves toward the serious — alluding to fears over looming middle age and whether maybe this romance would be even more romantic if it forever involved this hellish time loop — it convinces. Samberg and Milioti are particularly good when the film is most underlined in levity; Siara soundly brings to the fore Nyles’s crescendoing anxieties over getting older. I may feel that I too am living the same day almost every day, but I’m glad my plight isn’t the same as Nyles and Sarah’s. I can’t say I would want to do the time warp with them again, though. If I’m going to experience the déjà-vu-slaked feeling of watching a movie another time — let alone a movie that's also about doing something another time just generally — I’d prefer my company be Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
mornings and afternoons and evenings thankfully do not mimic one another to a T. But the larger details do. My overarching routine stays consistent throughout the working week; there is some variance on the weekends, during which I might venture out, taking all the necessary COVID-19-era precautions, and do some kind of socially distanced activity with friends. Dwell too long on my routine’s monotony and I know I could make myself unhealthily anxious — perhaps bring myself to the beginning stages of an existential crisis. Can’t say I’m doing myself many favors writing this right now.
Plenty of movies have literalized the blurry
’ve been working from home for a little over two months now. It feels now more than it ever has like I’m living the same day over and over again. The minutiae of the
On Palm Springs, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, and The Old Guard
2020 Vision July 21, 2020
Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in Palm Springs.
reasons unknown to them and us (it’s genetics?), are unable to die. They’ve been together now for centuries. They have a good reputation but have been careful to keep their exclusive-to-them edge a secret. At some point, their powers of immortality can deteriorate, we learn. But this will come rather abruptly. Some can live centuries and centuries and their undying juices will never dry until one random day where a disemboweling will finally have the intended effect.
I concluded before so much as turning on The Old Guard that I’d be getting something pretty special. My personal interest in the movie came mostly from the prospect of seeing Theron in another action feature — post-Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) she’s seemed to become a doyenne of the genre. The movie became more appealing when I heard it was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who has never before directed an action film and whose Love and
Basketball (2000) and Beyond the Lights (2015) I unreservedly love, and that it would be co-starring newcomer KiKi Layne, who I thought was terrific in 2019’s devastating If Beale Street Could Talk. Enough about my reasons for thinking The Old Guard was going to be pretty special; the question remains — is it any good?
The movie lives up to expectations in that Theron is as formidable as ever, and in that Prince-Bythewood’s direction competently fuses her trademark intimacy with blaring, effective action-movie theatrics. But the familiar concept — a gaggle of heroes being invincible and also tortured by the fact that they are invincible — isn’t rendered especially new, and the feature doesn’t provide us with high enough stakes to encourage us to care much about anything going on.
The Old Guard is driven by the discovery of a new one of “them” — a young Marine played rather awkwardly by Layne — then a rescue mission when a couple of members of the immortal squad (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) are kidnapped by a corporation so that it can run experiments on them and potentially profit off some kind of genetic discovery. But never do we doubt that the young Marine who had no idea until recently that she couldn’t die and doesn’t want to be part of this thing will adjust. And never do we doubt that the members will be rescued and that this evil corporation will be undercut. Many action movies are so good and engaging that they’re escapist even when we can predict its beats. Rather mechanical The Old Guard is not among them.
Conceit-wise this is all very comic-bookian. Trouble is is that the screenplay isn’t compelling enough to see through Prince-Bythewood’s determination to make this all an effective, “gritty” superhero movie more about the psychic and emotional travails of being a superhero than the action. It’s dressed up a little differently; it does refreshingly encompass an ethnically and sexually diverse cast. But I ultimately found The Old Guard every bit as tinny, faux-profound, and overlong as the more “serious” additions into the Marvel-movie canon à la Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) or Avengers: Endgame (2019). Something different turns out to be more of the same.
Palm Springs: B
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga: D+
The Old Guard: C
nother new Netflix offering, The Old Guard, is also stale, but for different, mercilessly less grating reasons. It’s an action movie led by Charlize Theron about a cadre of I-suppose superheroic crime fighters who, for