The Map of Tiny Perfect Things
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Two teens trapped in a single repeating day pass the time wandering around their small town in search of moments of joy and connection.
Starring Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies) and Kyle Allen (American Horror Story). Based on a short story by Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians and consultant on the SyFy adaptation), who also wrote the script.
Time-loop stories have been growing in popularity in recent years, but after the events of the last 12 months the idea of being stuck in a meaningless, seemingly endless pattern day after day hits the psyche in a whole different way. Last summer’s delightful Palm Springs was the first film I’d seen to effectively use the familiar Groundhog Day setup as a metaphor for a relationship. And now we have The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, which puts a YA spin on that same concept, albeit with a much less sardonic outlook.
The central characters, Mark and Margaret, don’t talk or think like teenagers, but you wouldn’t expect them to, considering they’ve already been living the in same day for quite a while by the time we meet them. Assuming the audience is already familiar with the trope, the film doesn’t waste time setting it up. It opens with Mark going through the motions of his day with little enthusiasm. He knows all the answers to his dad’s crossword puzzle, what his sister’s going to say before she says it, exactly when the toast will pop. As has become his routine, he winds up at the local pool where, to his surprise, he spots a girl he’s never seen there on any of the previous days.
He soon figures out that he’s not alone in this bizarre temporal anomaly. As the only two “awake” people in the world, Mark and Margaret grow closer, until they’re spending every repeating day together. To pass the time, they show each other some of the cool things they’ve seen around their small town. A dog steals a cell phone and leads two men on a merry chase. An eagle swoops down and scoops a fish from a stream. A janitor plays the piano in a store after hours when he thinks no one is looking. Together, they set out to discover and map every “perfect thing” they can find. In one brilliantly choreographed sequence, the two of them slip through the town in perfectly timed synchronicity, evading obstacles and preventing disasters as everyone else goes about their day unaware.
Eventually, Mark’s feelings for Margaret inconveniently evolve beyond friendship. It’s scary enough falling for someone who may reject you; imagine being marooned with that person for all eternity. Despite their close bond, Margaret is wary of commitment, for reasons she’s reluctant to share with Mark. He wants to find a way out, but she’s become comfortable where she is. Yeah, it sucks being stuck in a monotonous routine, but when the alternative means having to move on, going forward into the unknown, her hesitance is understandable (dare I say relatable?).
The two likable young stars are up to the challenge of carrying the film all on their own, and manage to make the characters’ struggles and philosophical discussions feel authentic. In the last, satisfying act, we learn the deeper meaning of the discoveries they’ve made. It all comes together so beautifully I found myself identifying with Margaret and not wanting it to ever end. Not everything is perfect, but that’s okay; as Mark and Margaret come to realize, there’s beauty in imperfection, too.
Like Palm Springs, this is a love story at its core, but it’s so much more than that. It uses the premise to explore the human condition and how time defines us in ways we can’t perceive, because we’re too close to it. Only when we pause, take a step back, and change our point of view can we truly appreciate the entire picture.
Gather all your quarantine buddies to watch with you, so you can truly appreciate what the characters are going through. Although the two main teen characters aren’t role models—a lack of consequences leads to lots of reckless behavior—there’s nothing particularly objectionable here that would make it unsuitable for younger viewers.
Trigger warning for the death of a loved one.