Travis Leamons // Film Critic
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS sounds like the title of a young adult novel that would be found alongside the works of John Green, Jenny Han, and Nicola Yoon. It’s in the same ballpark. A short story by Lev Grossman (THE MAGICIANS), now film adaptation, is seemingly inspired by YA novels but with a re-run clause as our late-teen hero repeats the same day again and again.
The Bill Murray comedy GROUNDHOG DAY ushered the concept back in the early 1990s. Yet, Hollywood, normally one to pounce on a hit and pound it into submission (i.e., the sword-and-sandal epics produced following GLADIATOR), remained relaxed when it came to a yearly ritual involving a groundhog named Phil. Now the concept of déjà vu-inspired movies is in vogue, as we’ve been getting them every few years, starting with SOURCE CODE a decade ago. A year later, Tom Cruise was dying more times than a cat with nine lives in EDGE OF TOMORROW. Even the horror world was not immune as Jason Blum took a stab, producing HAPPY DEATH DAY and its sequel.
The formula is basic stuff. A character repeats the same day over and over again. Rinse, wash, repeat. The how and the why are trivial pursuits (and are either investigated or left unexplained). The concept got a tweak with last year’s PALM SPRINGS as more than one person got caught in the cycle. THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS continues the more, the merrier trend with two teens and the perks of being in a time loop.
From the get-go, Mark (Kyle Allen) is already aware he’s in a loop. We all have our daily rituals and routines in how we get ready for the day, but Mark takes it to a different level. He’s so familiar with the habits and idiosyncrasies of his town. Beyond helping his father (Josh Hamilton) with the same crossword puzzle at breakfast or knowing when his sister (Cleo Fraser) is going to call him a loser, Mark takes it upon himself to bicycle around and cause order out of chaos. This means leaving the house with cooking tongs for a special purpose, later grabbing the phone out of a motorist’s hand and dropping it in the backseat, and giving a teenage girl directions to the local pool. This last one is his biggest goal. Finding the sweet spot of being flirtatiously charming and not coming across as a total creeper isn’t easy. Through pursuing her – thinking this may be the key in stopping the loop – Mark discovers he’s not the only one on repeat.
The good news is it’s a girl. The bad news is tracking her down and talking to her. Trial and error eventually lead Mark to Margaret (Kathryn Newton).
The ability to repeat the same day without fear of what’ll happen the next day can be a wonderful thing. You retain the previous days’ experiences and stockpile memories for a day that would otherwise be unexceptionable. You can eat whatever you want and not gain a pound. The things you dread or find to be a waste of time can be omitted. Household chores, attending summer school, the list goes on.
By living the same day repeatedly, Mark and Margaret share their favorite things to do and places to go. As their friendship develops, so do their adventures around town as they set out to find all “tiny perfect things” that occur on this one particular day. “Like Pokemon?” Margaret asks. Mark believes finding them and making a map where they all take place may allow them to escape. He’s had his fun and wants to move forward. Margaret is the opposite.
We’ve all had one of those days we wish would never end. Often it deals with a pleasurable experience. The reasoning behind Margaret’s unwillingness to see what the future brings is because she already knows what happens, and she’s not ready to see it through.
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS has the foresightedness to tip its hat to GROUNDHOG DAY, acknowledging it by name. Screenwriter Lev Grossman plants his nerd flag deeper, throwing appreciation to DOCTOR WHO and TIME BANDITS. However, unlike GROUNDHOG DAY, Grossman isn’t invested in Mark trying to woo Margaret through deception. It can’t work like anyway; both are stuck in the bubble and remember all that has occurred. The cyclical world extends the opportunity to have the romance blossom on their terms.
Kyle Allen and Kathryn Newton have nice chemistry, and that alone clears one of the hurdles of romantic comedies. Their journey keeps us invested despite us already knowing the inevitable destination. What’s kind of ironic about THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS is that it arrives following Newton starring in the body-swap horror-comedy FREAKY from the writer-director of HAPPY DEATH DAY. Back to back projects twisting a narrative device to surprising effect.
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS isn’t revelatory by any stretch; the premise turns something lighthearted into a more sympathetic slice of mood food. Nothing too weighty, but nonetheless profound on why stopping time isn’t about capturing the notion of YOLO. We live every day. We only die once.
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.