The single day time loop, a concept perfected by Groundhog Day in 1993, offers a shockingly deep well from which to draw. Apparently, anyway, given the sheer number of films that explore this concept. Just last year we got the surprisingly wonderful Andy Samberg led Palm Springs, which proved, perhaps beyond all reasonable expectations, that the concept was still viable.
As a framework, the single day time loop does offer a surprising amount of room for character exploration, even if the routes taken to get there are, by this point, well beyond familiar. There’s a lot to be learned within the confines of a single day, provided you have an infinite number of tries to get there. Predictable as the journey may be—watch as our character repeatedly performs minor miracles owing to all the practice they’ve had! witness the shenanigans that ensue when consequences have no meaning!—with the right characters, it can still be enjoyable.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is, if nothing else, enjoyable. Based on a short story by Lev Grossman, who also penned the screenplay, the film is well aware of its position in the greater time loop milieu (“like that Bill Murray film” one character repeatedly opines) and never attempts to reinvent the form. Instead, it uses the well-trod terrain to wax philosophical on the, well, tiny perfect things that make life worth living.
The film opens with Mark (Kyle Allen), an impossibly likeable teenage trope who, already stuck in an infinite loop of a single day. When we first we meet him, he’s been caught in temporal flux for an indeterminate amount of time; long enough, at the very least, to smooth play his way through family breakfast by catching falling mugs and answer questions before they’re asked. He’s reached a kind of stasis with his existence, accepting it for what it is and just trying to do his best. That all changes when he unexpectedly meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), another impossibly likeable teenage trope who is, inexplicably, caught in the same loop. Now, 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.
As written, both main characters of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things are little more than archetypal roles filled by any number of teen targeted movies produced over the years. Mark is laid back and arty, with a wholesome center; Margaret is edgy and dreams of being an aerospace engineer. However, Both Allen and Newton give magnetic life to their characters, each endowed with their own charms.
Naturally, in addition to the single day time loop, the existence of these two characters also requires an opposites attract love story. It’s all very saccharine, and yet, again, it’s impossible to deny the charisma and chemistry of the two stars. It is important to note that the film, being targeted at teens, is suitably surface level. The big ideas suggested by the film are made palpable for its intended audience, and so it, at times, comes off as a bit trite.
However, there’s something refreshing about the non-cynical perspective of the film that makes it joyous, at least in parts. Central to the film is the idea that every day offers us a chance to find the tiny moments that remind us of life’s magic. An eagle swoops down and catches a fish, a man sits in the right place at the right time and looks, for a moment, to have angel wings, children shout with joy as the lights of their treehouse work for the first time. 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.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is nothing new or special, and yet it’s handled in such a way that makes its optimism infectious. This is a film that stands firmly against the jaded and refuses to be brought down by cynicism. 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. But thanks to a mix of likeable characters and sweetness, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a fine, fun film that’s worthy of some Valentine’s weekend enjoyment.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is now available on Amazon Prime.