BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
FEBRUARY 13, 2021
“Most of life is just junk. And then, there’s these moments, and all the randomness turns into something perfect.”— Mark (Kyle Allen)
Mark (Kyle Allen from “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”) wakes up like it’s any other day. A car pulls away outside, toast pops out of the toaster, and he catches a mug that’s about to hit the floor. After a normal teenage conversation between him, his sister, and his dad, he heads out on his bike.
Right off the bat, Mark comes off as a cocky, know-it-all, bored with life teenager. He knows the exact time the sprinklers pop up, takes phones from drivers with their windows open, and tosses his bike into an empty parking spot with no care in the world.
Who does this kid think he is?
It turns out there’s an excellent explanation of this… he’s been living the same exact day, over and over again. Every night at midnight, time resets itself. No matter where he is or what he’s done, everything starts entirely over. His memories of the day remain intact but nothing else. The car pulls away outside, the toast pops up, and he catches the mug before it hits the floor.
Just so we’re crystal clear, it has only been 217 days since the release of “Palm Springs” took us by surprise. It, too, had the “Groundhog Day” time loop premise and infused a dark comedy that made it different. The chemistry between Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti made it was one of the highlights of 2020.
So, to say it is too soon for another time loop movie is an understatement.
In true teen fashion, Mark thinks gaining a girl’s affections at the pool is his ticket out of the loop. Until he meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a mysterious girl is also stuck in the loop. Like two people shipwrecked on an island, they grow closer as they spend their days together. They make a mutual agreement to discover the beauty in the mundane. They find things like an elderly lady dancing when she wins at checkers or a janitor playing the piano when he thinks no one’s looking. They believe if they find all the “tiny perfect things,” they’ll be able to break the loop. But we find out there’s a reason Margaret may not want to break it.
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” brings so many other young adult films to mind. “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Paper Towns,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and “If I Stay,” to name a few. At this point, it should be its own genre, if it’s not already: the Young Adult genre. It’s encapsulated by young adults dealing with intense emotions and extreme circumstances. In most cases, without the help of the adults around them. In “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” it is Margaret who must be smart, capable, and resilient.
The hitch Margaret must overcome struck a personal chord with me. I was in tears by the end. She’s asked to do something that not everyone could. I would argue that reliving her experience every day would be more challenging than acceptance. But then again, I’ve never been a teenage girl asked to make that decision. I know, from my personal experience, I would never want to relive certain days.
Nothing against Kyle Allen, who fills the role fine, but Kathryn Newton is the scene-stealer. Allen’s character is wholly driven by Newton. She’s the only thing that gives him purpose once they meet. You might be able to list a few young actresses that have done it better, but she’s still fun to watch.
There’s one question I have for any time loop movie. Why don’t these characters ever come out excelling in more considerable ways than before? Mark and Margaret joke about learning to cure cancer or becoming astronauts. But honestly, why not? If there was no limit to the amount of time you could spend expanding your own mind, why wouldn’t you? Why would you use your time to stop the same random man from getting pooped on by a bird every day?
There are still lessons learned. The main one is to appreciate the small things in life, as the film’s title suggests. Mark learns math. And he to be more present and involved in the lives of his loved ones. And Margaret ends up having to face the harsh realities of life. But these are pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of where the time loop concept could go. Is that the point? That given all the time in the world, we’d still waste it with the mundane? Given a chance, we would always choose other things over the more important? Also, delving into that may be too much to ask from the Young Adult genre.
For what it is, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is a pleasant Sunday afternoon drama you can watch with your teens. But “Palm Springs” did it so much better. And so recently. Had director Ian Samuels taken more chances and dared to step outside the box, it could have added something to the temporal anomaly conversation. Instead, it lands smack in the middle of everything that’s come before it.
Like being stuck in a time loop myself, the more these films that come out, the less they meaning they end up carrying. And the more I want to move on with my life. Or go learn how to cure cancer.
February 12, 2021
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things”
by Liv Grossman
(for brief strong language, some teen drinking and sexual references)