Synopsis – Two teens who live the same day repeatedly, enabling them to create the titular map.
My Take – Given the sheer number of films that has released in recent years, it is indeed amazing how the time loop genre, perfected by films like Groundhog Day (1993) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), hasn’t gone stale by now. A probable reasoning behind that could be that films like last year’s Palm Springs and the upcoming Boss Level, continue to bring a certain fresh energy into the mix, proving that the concept continues to remain viable.
Adding to the list of adventures in time-looping is the latest from director Ian Samuels (Sierra Burgess Is a Loser) and writer Lev Grossman, whose 2016 short story the film is based on, which has two teenagers living the same day over and over again. Though the film is probably the lightest-weight of the bunch, it too contains the certain freshness that makes it, if nothing else, endearing.
Most importantly, it seems well aware of its position in the greater time loop milieu and never attempts to reinvent the form, instead handles the concept in such a way that makes its optimism infectious. Sure, it doesn’t always work, but it does enough to make it enjoyable, making for a surprisingly fun take on a format that is already familiar, if not a bit tired.
The film handles big issues such as existence, morality and livelihood; concepts that have come to the foreground of many people’s discussions this past year. The feature addresses the idea that life is not made up of grand gestures but small, minor events that remind one how sweet life can be.
And thanks to its mix of likeable characters and sweetness, it turns into a surprisingly poignant, sad film, one bittersweet in nature and unapologetically earnest. It’s pretty magical that a YA film was able to pack such meaning into such a familiar premise.
The story follows Mark (Kyle Allen) who wakes up, interacts with his dad, Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and younger sister, Emma (Cleo Fraser), and goes about his day around town with the knowledge of someone who knows exactly what’s going to happen at every moment. Of course, that’s because he does know. He’s been waking up to the same exact day for an incredibly long time now and has the beats and movements of this world down to ever frame, and reached a kind of stasis with his existence, accepting it for what it is and just trying to do his best.
That is until, Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a mysterious girl who he has never seen before, enters his frame. But what’s more surprising to him is the knowledge that she too has been stuck in the same time loop. Forming a friendship as the only two people in the known universe with any sense of the disruption of time, they attempt to find meaning by locating and mapping all of the tiny moments of perfection that happen throughout the day in their small town, while trying to decide if and how to break the time loop.
Indeed like every time loop film released in the past three decades, this one too owes a debt to Groundhog Day (1993) for both the mechanical and thematic approach to its story, and both writer Lev Grossman and director Ian Samuels know their film is hitting familiar beats between the characters’ routine, good deeds, and downward spiral, but they find their own way and voice well before the credits roll.
Sure, the film is wholly predictable, but it has such a strong sense of self that it doesn’t really matter, as it wears its heart on its sleeve, much like the teenagers it depicts. Though the film will be viewed as a low stakes YA subject, it has enough authenticity to appeal to a wider crowd, mainly as primary goal isn’t jokes; it’s more about the people and moments in our lives in which we place value. It’s more of a message than I was expecting from this work, but it’s certainly welcome in a culture that seems focused on the shallowest things.
Central to the film is the idea that every day offers us a chance to find the tiny moments that remind us of magic in life. Like an eagle swooping down to catches a fish, a man sitting in the right place at the right time and looks, for a moment, to have angel wings, children shouting with joy as the lights of their tree house work for the first time etc.
The core of the film is the reminder that perfection is found in the little things. No matter how bad your situation, it’s possible to find and appreciate the moments of serendipity that become the sublime.
While the does drag at times especially when the narrative gets into scientific explanations which in turn prevents the plot from seamlessly unfolding, the characters succeed in keeping us glued.
Though both the main characters are written as archetypal roles filled by a number of teen targeted films produced over the years, I personally enjoyed watching Mark and Margaret’s friendship develop and all the wild things they do without suffering consequences since they are in the time loop, like how they drive a tractor down the street.
My favorite part is when they completely trash a model home, knowing the time loop would put it back the way it was. The inevitable romance comes naturally, just as the expected roadblocks lend power to the drama and emotion, and all of it is heightened by a subtle but unusual shift in focus.
There are also some fun moments with recurring, supporting cast members, including Mark’s father, his teacher Mr. Pepper (Al Madrigal), and his video game-playing best friend Henry (Jermaine Harris). While we don’t get to see Margaret in interactions with many people since her life is a bit of mystery, but when she does finally meet Henry, it leads to one of the funniest scenes in the film.
Performance wise, this is obviously Kathryn Newton’s show, who continues to add an impressive collection of projects under her belt. Here, with a balanced and devoted performance Newton truly put her emotional chops on display. Kyle Allen makes for a wonderful counterpart, and is a compelling leading man with enough comic and drama potential. In supporting roles, Josh Hamilton, Cleo Fraser, Jermaine Harris and Al Madrigal are also good. On the whole, ‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ is another entertaining take on a well-worn concept with a heart-warming theme at the center of it.
Directed – Ian Samuels
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 98 minutes