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.