THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS
PG-13, 98 mins.
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 EmmaDirected by Ian Samuels / Written by Lev Grossman, based on his short story
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.
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.
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.