Synopsis: A teenager contentedly living the same day in an endless loop gets his world turned upside-down when he meets a girl who’s also stuck in the time warp.
Stars: Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen, Jermaine Harris, Anna Mikami, Josh Hamilton, Cleo Fraser
Director: Ian Samuels
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: It must be soul crushing to be involved in a movie waiting to be released and then seeing one with similar plot elements show up to rapturous fanfare not too long before you are set to arrive on the scene. It’s no one’s fault here, just a case of bad timing, but one movie is bound to be compared to the other and it’s likely not going to be the one that is sitting with a high critical and audience score on the aggregator websites. There’s no way of bypassing that comparison, however, so the best that second arrival can do is to focus on what makes their project unique and sell that over anything else. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but it’s absolutely worth the effort seeing that it’s possible both films can wind up winning in the end. Then consider what would happen if yet another like-plotted movie found its way into the mix after yours was released…now you’re the pickle in the middle and in a, well, pickle.
I’m not totally sure The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is running victory laps two months after it was released by Amazon Studios. While I saw it back in February, I sadly am only getting to this review now as I wrestle with a backlog that was unavoidable. I didn’t want to ignore this one, though, seeing that it fits into a worthy place in a discussion on similar time loop films released over the past year. First with Palm Springs in July 2020 and then in March’s Boss Level. All three are different styles of film with their own pros and cons but if Palm Springs is aimed at the frat crowd, then The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is meant for that audience’s tween brothers and sisters.
Based on the short story by Lev Grossman who also wrote the film’s screenplay, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things thankfully starts up after Mark (Kyle Allen, the upcoming remake of West Side Story) has already found himself caught in an endless loop for thousands of days where he relieves the same mundane day repeatedly. As in every other film that has a similar set-up, the rules are the same. The moment Mark sleeps, everything resets, and he wakes the next day with knowledge of what he learned the day before but no one else retains the same information. The opening moments show how he’s made some good use out of this time by finding ways to help/assist his family and others in town as they go about their daily life. What he’s mostly trying to perfect now is getting a pretty girl at the town’s pool to notice him but no matter how suave, humble, polite, or impressive he comes off, he isn’t getting anywhere.
On his latest attempt, out of the blue something changes when Margaret (Kathryn Newton, Ben is Back) intervenes, shocking Mark who thought up until now he was stuck alone in this crazy cycle. Turns out Margaret has also been in her own loop for some time, watching Mark from the sidelines and only got his attention because of her own boredom. That doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to buddy up with Mark because Margaret has her own reasons for wanting to stay in this circle of time that are as strong as the ones Mark has for finding a way out. His family life is stuck in a rut and can’t change until he can get to the next day and her family life is…complicated. Together, they decide that until something changes, as a way to pass the time and perhaps a way to break the repeating day they should take the time to step back and look at all the “perfect” things/moments that happen throughout the day and map them out so they know where to find them.
Ok, so perhaps it doesn’t mine a well that is super deep for ideas or emotional nuance but there is some nice message in Grossman’s script that reminds us to stop periodically and remember to recognize the importance in small victories and what others might deem insignificant. Bolstering those up might help change your attitude, leading to greater happiness. It’s rather perfect for the YA crowd and I can see the film being a dark horse suggestion at slumber parties by those in the know of good films that aren’t just about kissing, boys, prom, or a terminal illness given to one of the leads. The light touch of director Ian Samuels also gives the film a bounce and I almost wonder if The Map of Tiny Perfect Things was pushed out for public consumption too early in the year. It has such a summer spring in its step that an April or early May date might have made more sense.
Another fine piece of this puzzle is the casting throughout, starting with Allen and Newton as the incredibly appealing leads. We already know that Newton is a star on the cusp of something big and its earthy roles like this that she makes seem effortless that will continue to make casting directors put her at the top of their lists. It’s also a nice showcase of Allen who has the looks of a football quarterback but the sensitivities of the tortured poet when you get right down to it. Rounding out the cast are Jermaine Harris as Mark’s video game obsessed friend who might always be glued to a game but still can dish out expert advice when called upon, and Cleo Fraser as Mark’s sister. Fraser and Allen have a nice sibling arc throughout that takes a nice, believable turn and both mesh well with John Hamilton (Frances Ha) as their dad who might appear to be aimless but, like Margaret, has secrets he keeps bottled up.
Lacking the creative zing that made Palm Springs such a riot and missing the more audacious go-for-broke attitude which gave Boss Level extra bonus points, The Map of Perfect Things finds itself in third place but don’t look at that bronze medal as a sign of a lack of confidence. Like the recent slate of YA films put out by Amazon Studios (Selah and the Spades, Words on Bathroom Walls, Chemical Hearts), the film fulfills on what it promises by sending out appealing leads jumping through multiple loops to get their day right. What it might lack in originality it more than makes up for with a casual air of unpretentious self-confidence.