The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, 2021.
Directed by Ian Samuels.
Starring Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen, Jermaine Harris, Anna Mikami, Josh Hamilton, and Cleo Fraser.
Two teens who live the same day repeatedly, enabling them to create the titular map.
Highschooler Mark (Kyle Allen) starts his day with a rhythm that is too tuned into the moment, almost as if he’s participating in a musical. He knows his younger sister Emma (Cleo Fraser) is going to call him a loser during breakfast, he knows his father (Josh Hamilton, once again proving to be understanding if mildly overbearing as a parental figure) is going to pressure him about college, and he prepares food as if he is putting on a talent show. From leaving the house, things get more specific; he knows where a lost woman is going, he wins the lottery, he senses a woman about to get hit with a ball near a public swimming pool, and so on and so forth. That’s because in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Mark, like so many protagonists before him (as recently as last year’s outstanding and profound Palm Springs) is stuck in a time loop.
Once it settled in what I was watching (I prefer going into movies as blind as possible) I will admit I was a little nervous, especially not so far removed from seeing this story done right. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things actually starts to indulge in aspects that Palm Springs was wise to avoid; pop-culture references (Mark periodically visits a friend played by Jermaine Harris where they discuss all sorts of time travel theories from mainstream movies even if he doesn’t understand why they are talking about it), a bit too much emphasis on looking for a scientific explanation, and generally less fun to watch. Granted, these are not necessarily two movies that deserve direct comparisons, but the diminishing returns are undeniable. Directed by Ian Samuels (with Lev Grossman writing the screenplay and adapting his own short story), The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a map all right but it’s following one of a better movie and reconstructing it for the teenage demographic. Thankfully, it’s still lively and charming.
On one of many days repeating the same day, Kyle randomly comes across Margaret (Kathryn Newton, who is a large part of why this movie does ultimately work in the end) and discovers that she is also repeating the same day. Naturally, he also takes a liking to her, obtains her number, and uses the time loop to continue getting closer to her. She seems just as interested although she does have to take off at a certain time every day to visit a doctor named Jared.
There are two ways The Map of Tiny Perfect Things sets itself apart from the litany of movies it does reference. The approach to experiencing the same day is treated almost as if it’s a video game (which is fitting because one character does have a personal realization while playing a video game of all things), specifically an open-world variation with plenty of side quests and collectibles. Aside from little mysteries along the way such as a missing dog, Mark and Emma observe a bird snatch a fish right out of the water, chalking it up as one of the titular tiny perfect things; small phenomenal yet beautiful events in life that pass us by, but with enough time to scour the same day can be found and tallied like an achievement. Searching for such sights is a relief as it’s not that exciting watching either of these characters try to uncover the fourth dimension even if they do have an interest in astrophysics and space. Not to mention, some of the things they witness are warm and life-affirming while lending a laid-back hangout vibe to the proceedings.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things also has to shift perspective to Emma, which is handled gracefully and with an understanding that it’s not just her story, but that Kyle has to work on himself. For everything he does know about the day he has been living for who knows how long, it’s disappointing how little he knows about what his family members do on that day. There is a distance to them that suggests he is somewhat selfish and too carefree for his own good, even if he is stuck in time. Without giving anything away, once it’s revealed what’s actually going on for one of the characters, the story does take on a thoughtful analysis of the necessity of confronting death and not running away. It’s up to Kathryn Newton to make us feel the emotion when things shift from romantic comedy to something deeper, and she succeeds in further cementing herself as a terrific rising talent to watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com