Premise: Two teens who live the same day repeatedly, enabling them to create the titular map.
Filmmakers tend to take on projects in familiar genres for one of two reasons: One could be to explore a previously untapped or underutilized element of the genre. The other could be to put their own personal spin on the material. Martin Scorcese explored the long-lasting effects of the typically short-lived life of crime in The Irishman. Ryan Coogler imprinted the Black experience on Black Panther. Even last year, the time-loop genre went through a reinvention of sorts with Palm Springs. I’m not saying that the release of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is hindered by its proximity to Palm Springs; rather, it’s that it has hardly anything new to say, in a genre with fairly limited breathing room to begin with.
Director Ian Samuels, working from a script by Lev Grossman, filters the Groundhog Day formula – one that the film can’t help but reference again and again, along with Time Bandits – through a teen romance lens, and the result mostly works as intended. The film stars Kathryn Newton (Pokémon: Detective Pikachu) and Kyle Allen (TV’s The Path), who are good-looking, are likeable enough and have decent chemistry together. We want to see the pair together by the end of the film, so the film succeeds in that regard. Where it could use some refinement is in its approach to the subject.
The film opens with Mark (Allen), who has already been stuck in his own one-day hell for roughly 1,000 days. He glides through his morning agenda, bantering with his father (Josh Hamilton) and sister, biking to school and bumming rides on the backs of trucks. He averts various disasters for other people. He gives directions to a girl he crushes on. He plays video games with a friend. His daily agenda belies the sensibility of somebody at peace with his new reality: comfortable enough to enjoy his predicament, but still wishing to be free and experience the next day. Until he meets Margaret (Newton), who he comes to learn has been stuck in the same loop. Margaret is more at ease with herself and the time-loop concept, less eager to escape it, but still willing to switch up her routine once she meets Mark.
Mark and Margaret live in Everytown, USA, where major retailers can’t be found within 100 miles, and everybody is ethnically diverse and friendly to a fault. Naturally, a fast friendship emerges and the two begin to meld their routines and enjoy their dilemma together. They start to appreciate the smaller, more intimate moments that can only be found by someone who can just slow down and be in tune with the universe, man. Things like an elderly couple playing cards and dancing together, or a hawk eating a fish, or a handyman playing classical piano. None of these ideas are inherently bad, of course; they just contain an air of pretension, as if the key to solving Mark and Margaret’s troubles lies in simply not taking the smaller things in life for granted. Think of it as an extended riff on the whimsically floating plastic bag from American Beauty. Thankfully this segment of the film doesn’t occupy too much space in its runtime.
Once Mark realizes that their efforts remain fruitless, it leads him to realize that the key to escaping the time loop is to focus his story less on himself and more on others. He cheers on his sister’s soccer game; he listens to his dad’s struggles with his new book; he gives away winning lottery tickets to his fellow townspeople (in small towns, they apparently announce the lucky numbers in the middle of the day). He also realizes that the real person he should be helping out is the only one who can actually sympathize with him.
Once the film shifts to Margaret’s perspective, the emotional crux takes shape and viewers that were invested before will inevitably be sucked in even more. And Samuels handles both characters with enough weight to make them fully-realized humans, avoiding the trap of writing teenage characters with more quirks and less heart. The moment when Margaret’s motivations for remaining in the loop is a well-done, well-earned emotional moment that I was pleasantly surprised by. Her storyline is handle so well that I was almost left wishing the entire film were centered around her.
I may not be the target audience for The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, and that’s ok. In a perfect, post-pandemic world, I could see a theater full of high-schoolers on first dates seeing the film, lamenting over Mark and Margaret’s star-crossed romance. Take the quirkiness of The Fault in Our Stars and mix it with a neutered Palm Springs, and the result is this film. Is Map the best – or the worst – offering of the time-loop genre? No, but it fails to make a personal statement unique enough to justify its own existence.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.