Monday, February 15, 2021

Movie Review: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

©Amazon Studios

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a surprisingly great, heartfelt time loop movie.
by Jeremy Fogelman

The time loop concept is hardly a new one, although it was popularized by the perfect movie Groundhog Day which oddly came out the same year (1993) as TV movie 12:01 which was also about a time looped day (itself based on a short story from 1973). There are many different takes on the loop idea, and many that simply poorly copy Groundhog Day, but only a few truly stand out.

I think of Edge of Tomorrow that incorporated a kickass Emily Blunt with a sci-fi twist, or last year’s Palm Springs that hit just right in pandemic times. Neither of those movies mentioned any other time loop movies, and Palm Springs only discussed it as “one of those time loop situations you hear about”. But to pretend they don’t exist is tricky, and those two are a high bar to clear.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things comes from director Ian Samuels and written by Lev Grossman, based on his short story of the same name. We start in medias res with Mark (Kyle Allen) already in the midst of his umpteenth loop, amusingly predicting his kid sister’s insults and doing little tricks and helping people in small, unnoticeable ways along his path throughout the day.

At first it seems that what’s driving Mark’s efforts is a desire to hook up with local girl Phoebe (Anna Mikami), as we see him retry multiple times that consistently fail, often around saving her from falling into a pool. In something that will be called back to multiple times, Mark hangs around his friend Henry (Jermaine Harris), who is playing a sort of first person shooter game without a name (they later call it “Warfight” which is pretty silly).

Henry offers his advice about Mark’s girl troubles, although we know that this scene must’ve been happening many times before in different ways. And unlike those other movies I mentioned, here both Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow are referenced explicitly, which is good because you have to use these nerds have seen them.

But Mark’s life gets shaken up when a girl interferes with something at the pool, which has never happened before. He eventually tracks her down -- her name is Margaret (Kathryn Newton) and she tells him almost nothing about herself. But that doesn’t really matter, as they do begin hanging out and wondering about the nature of their loop.

The title of the movie comes from an idea that Mark comes up with, a way to map the little perfect moments that happen over the course of the day in their small town. There’s a kind of almost-romance going on here, and their rapport is quite charming -- even if Margaret is always holding something back. There is clearly a mystery there, but the payoff actually works -- it’s a movie that succeeds in its emotional and humorous beats, which I was certainly surprised by.

The mechanics aren’t really the point exactly, and sure, it’s not as funny as Palm Springs, but there’s a sincerity and honesty to these two teenagers, both 17 and literally and metaphorically stuck in a moment in time. There are a few things that don’t work quite as well -- the video game callbacks aren’t really working and there’s a bit of an extended sequence about astronauts that goes on a bit too long, but there’s so much more that really works. The movie has a great way to show its scenes, some out in nature, but it’s got a kind of surreal vibe that totally fits.

The two leads are quite good, with Kyle Allen starting as a kind of nerdy athletic dude and moving on to more complicated situations. And Kathryn Newton really does a lot of great work to avoid some of those dreamgirls tropes and show off a more fully considered character. Honestly, I was surprised because Palm Springs was already so good last year and had a great romance -- although that one was more about people in their 30s stuck in time instead of the pre-college situation.

But just because it’s a surprise is no reason to be annoyed -- this movie is a very good entry in that shortlist of time loop films, a strong recommendation for either those that like that genre or simply want an elevated YA movie.

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