A film review by Craig J. Koban February 23, 2021

THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS jjj

2021, PG-13, 98 mins.

Kathryn Newton as Margaret  /  Kyle Allen as Mark  /  Jermaine Harris as Henry  /  Anna Mikami as Phoebe  /  Josh Hamilton as Daniel  /  Cleo Fraser as Emma

Directed by Ian Samuels  /  Written by Lev Grossman, based on his short story 

 

 

ORIGINAL FILM

Is it just me or is the time loop genre becoming the next big genre? 

Also, is it just me or is the time looping genre becoming the next big genre? 

Obvious sarcasm aside, the new Amazon Prime original film THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS has the unenviable position of coming out after the critically adored PALM SPRINGS from last year, and both films bare a striking similarity to one another.  

Both are romcoms.  Both involve a pair of star crossed lovers to be that are cursed with living the exact same day over and over again.  And both films play into the time looping convention playbook while trying to find new ways to subvert it.  

It would be easy to label THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS as a work of ill timed mimicry when compared to the well received PALM SPRINGS that hit in the middle of last year, but, to be fair, the former film is based on a Lev Grossman short story that was written before the latter.  Having said all of that, is this latest in what's becoming a long list of GROUNDHOG DAY wannabes worth a look?  As far as genre variants go, THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS doesn't radically reinvent the wheel for these types of films, but it uses this well worn and explored premise to solid effect while telling a touching young adult romance tale featuring two likeable lead actors. 

Right from the get-go director Ian Samuels displays some thankless visual ambition that frankly PALM SPRINGS lacked.  In a fairly incredible (and what seems like) one take tracking shot we're quickly introduced to a morning in the life of Mark (Kyle Allen), who's shown leaving his home and the journey he takes towards his small town high school.  Now, this seems like a pretty ordinary way to begin a romcom, but Samuels shows this character already at the height of is replay-day powers.  You see, the film begins with establishing Sam stuck in the same day repeatedly, so much so that, for example, he's able to meticulously finish off his father and sister's sentences at the breakfast table and allowing him to lend a pitch perfectly timed hand to those in need along the way to school (he stops people from being pooped on by birds, gives a girl directions before she even asks him, and even helps a school official with a wardrobe malfunction before entering class).  Since Mark has relived this day for so many times he's able to learn exactly where strangers will be and what events may befall them before they happen.  This is all communicated in the aforementioned tracking shot, and it's a pretty amazing piece of directorial ingenuity and choreography with the grace of a musical dance sequence.  Overall, pretty slick stuff to begin a film like this. 

 

 

Refreshingly, the screenplay here never once tries to explain Mark's unique temporal predicament (these genre efforts are better when they leave the hows and whys to the imagination), but all we know is that (a) he's stuck in this day, (b) he doesn't understand why, and (c) he seems fairly well adjusted to the fact and is mentally coping as best as he can under the circumstances.  Obviously, no one else around him - including his family - is aware of this phenomenon affecting him, leaving him pretty alone in this respect and trying to find new things to do to stave off intense boredom.  He does try - as any high school aged adolescent would - to use his situation to his advantage to charm a local girl to go out with him, but as Bill Murray's character demonstrated in GROUNDHOG DAY with the same attempts to woe a woman on a time loop it's really hard to recapture a lightning in a bottle moment twice...or many times.  Mark's life changes forever with the appearance of Margaret (Katherine Newton), who seems to arrive with the same laser precision at one key moment of Mark's day, which leads to him suspecting that this girl is dealing with the same mysterious fate.   

Building up the courage to confront Margaret, Mark does indeed learn that she too is re-living the same day as he is and on the same lather, rinse, and repeat cycle.  Realizing that hanging out together and with someone that can at least relate to this strange event is to their mutual advantage, the pair decide to strike up a quick friendship.  As their "temporal anomaly" continues, Mark and Margaret decide to embark on a game, of sorts, to discover and notate all of the special little moments that make up their day and create, in turn, a "map of tiny perfect things in town".  Predictably, the pair develop feelings for one another, which is hampered by the fact that they can't move on from the day in question.  That, and Margaret seems to abandon Mark every night for unspecified reasons, leaving him to wonder what mysteries abound around this girl.  Part of the ongoing intrigue of THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS is in witnessing Mark trying to discover the well guarded secrets that Margaret keeps tightly lipped, and ones that obviously lead to her dumping him every nightfall and leaving him at a romantic arm's length.  He suspects that there might be another man in the picture for her, but the film unravels in a much more intriguing manner when it comes to surprise reveals and makes one key aspect of Margaret's continually relived day seem cruelly tragic. 

The cornerstone of every good romcom is having appealing lead characters played by equally appealing lead actors, and THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS is represented well by both Allen and Newton, who manage to play their respective roles with the right blend of grounded youthful exuberance and sincerity that counterbalances the sheer ludicrousness of what's transpiring around them.  And they both have a pleasant, easy-going chemistry that serves the film well and makes it easy for viewers to generate a rooting interest in their budding love.  Obviously, both desperately try to escape this horrible time loop, which builds to a few ingenious moments of inspiration.  Since their days start over and rewind back to the beginning at the end of the day, then why not, for instance, try flying into a different time zone to potentially break this cycle (spoiler alert - it doesn't work).  THE TINY MAP OF PERFECT THINGS finds clever ways of breaking up the repetitiveness that's usually seen in these films (i.e. - we see no suicide attempts by them to try to fix their plight) while never trying, as mentioned, to over explain (or attempt to find a reason) for their condition.  That's kind of welcoming. 

To be sure, THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS isn't as gut bustingly hilarious (or dark) as PALM SPRINGS (sorry, but comparisons are bloody unavoidable), even thought there are amusing moments of mischief and merriment to be had here (granted, Allen and Newton certainly are not on the same comedic chops level of stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, and maybe they're not attempting to do so).   On one big positive, this latest genre exercise rarely feels like it goes on forever and instead knows when to quit (at a modest 98 minutes, Samuels' film understands the need to be briskly paced to maintain our investment).  I also liked the core message here about looking beyond your own needs and sometimes understanding that people that you want to be close to need their space to process emotional trauma and loss.  This is, no doubt, made all the more painfully difficult when you can't technically "sleep on it" and wake up fresh with a new day after a bad one, as is the case with this film's couple.

Changing gears, I could have done with far less pop culture referencing on display (so many movies, from GROUNDHOG DAY to other time centric films like TIME BANDITS and TV shows like DOCTOR WHO are casually thrown out in a too on-the-nose manner for my tastes).  Also, THE TINY MAP OF PERFECT THINGS traverses towards a fairly predictable conclusion that will leave no one surprised at all (in many respects, this plays into many of the troupes of romcoms without deviating away from them).  Still, I found it hard to discount this film, mostly because I liked the presence of Allen and Newton and their love story is told rather sweetly.  Plus, I admired how these teen characters try to become absorbed in the seemingly ordinary, but in their own way exceptional occurrences that happen outside everyday, and through experiencing that they learn to appreciate things that people take for granted.  The fact that they're stuck in a time loop becomes almost secondary to the journey of personal discovery within that they take.  It's that little touch that helps elevate THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS above being a purely deja vu experience for filmgoers.  

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