A version of this story on “Palm Springs” star Cristin Milioti appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
When “Palm Springs” was first being promoted way back at last year’s Sundance, it was often referred to as just a romantic comedy, while the film’s “Groundhog Day” style infinite time loop premise was kept under wraps. But in doing press for the film, Cristin Milioti explained why back then and today, she still balks at calling it just a rom-com.
“When I read it, I thought it was an existential comedy, that it was this beautiful allegory for depression and anxiety and the inability to escape yourself, and that’s how moments in one’s life can feel like,” Milioti told TheWrap. “I think it takes on a whole other level of meaning, but I think it’s stuff we all struggled with as humans.”
Being stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed her to further reflect on film’s depth and complexity. From first reading the script, she was drawn to the way in which the film grappled with how we all feel trapped in our own never-ending routines.
“Obviously we had no idea how prescient it would be, but I think that something in this pandemic, not only have we had to be in the same room, the same house, the same apartment or whatever, but there’s no escaping from stuff anymore,” she said. “You kinda have to sit with yourself. It’s not only the repetition of I’m in the same space, but it’s also the like, ‘Oh I have to think about all this stuff but maybe I thought about it and then I could go out with some friends for dinner and let some air out.'”
As an unwitting wedding guest who gets further dragged into cost Andy Samberg’s own infinite time loop, Milioti’s performance was singled out by many critics for how she managed to convey a full range of messy human emotions and growth in 90 hilarious minutes.
Milioti says that range was present in the script by Andy Siara, and the final product was lucky to come out exactly as she had imagined it on the page.
“It’s very rare that you read something that it makes you feel a certain way or you fall in love with the tone of it and that’s how it turns out. It’s so hard to make something and so hard to make something just right,” Milioti explained. “I remember reading it and being like, I get to do all of this? This is amazing. The challenge was I was afraid I was going to mess it up.”
Though “Palm Springs” is manic and silly – a given for a Lonely Island film – Milioti grounds her character’s self-loathing and sense of shame. It was important to Milioti that even if you knew her character would be stuck in infinity, her character’s backstory would still resonate as an authentic existential crisis.
“The time loop itself becomes superfluous after a while, because she’s someone who’s dealing with so much shame, she’s her own time loop. She wakes up every day and hates herself anyway, which is what I love about the movie,” she said. “If you ask me to be a cartoon, it’s my dream. But I wanted to make sure that you really felt this person. That it wasn’t, ‘and now we’re like zany,’ that you understood that this is someone who can’t be alone with themselves.”
Cristin Milioti says “Palm Springs” was shot in a matter of 21 days, and though the film reuses many of the same locations due to its premise, it includes countless action sequences and gigantic set pieces that are unusual for an indie, romantic comedy. She recalls nailing a take and then literally running down a dirt road to get set up for the next scene, a madcap energy that made its way into the film.
Milioti means that quite literally when it comes to a goofy dance sequence that is one of the standout moments in “Palm Springs.” Because they had such limited time, Milioti and Samberg would often rehearse the choreography on the side of the road whenever the two had a moment of downtime. One of those times though, the camera was still rolling, and a shot of them practicing made it into a montage in the final cut.
“It was an immediate ice breaker because we both look so stupid,” she said. “Like we’re both movers, we can both move, but we’re by no means dancers.”