The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021) — A delightfully upbeat time loop journey

“Most of life is just junk. It’s filler. And then, there’s these moments when all the randomness turns into something perfect.”

Justin’s rating: Four out of four dimensions

Justin’s review: Over the past year I’ve seen quite a few time loop movies, from the nihilistic Palm Springs to the messy Retroactive, but I’m going to stake a bold claim here by saying that The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is much better than those two.  Honestly, it’s the kind of sweet, upbeat movie that I needed to see to wash my brain from some of life’s crud that’s been building up lately.

At the onset, high schooler Mark (Kyle Allen) has been reliving the same day so often that he’s able to predict an awful lot, yet he’s still not able to get that one cute girl to go out on a date with him. Unlike some other time loop stories, Mark seems mostly upbeat at reliving the same 16-hour period again and again. He’s kind of making the best of a bizarre situation, even if nothing ever seems to change.

Until, weirdly, one day it does. One day a girl catches a ball at a swimming pool who’s never been there before, and so Mark follows her. This is Margaret (Kathryn Newton), another prisoner of this localized time anomaly, and she initially comes off a bit… different than Mark. She seems more weirded out by encountering him than glad, and it takes some time for their friendship — and budding romance — to actually get going.

Of course, a relationship does emerge, because who else are they going to relate to than the other person who is stuck in the same scenario? Without anything better to do, the pair embark on a mission to map out all of the “tiny perfect things” that happen that day in the town around them, from a skater landing that tough jump to an eagle catching a fish out of a pond. This is the mission statement of the movie, that life is mostly meaningless but there are these occasional YouTube-worthy moments that are worth sticking around to see. That kind of feels very teenager-y and trite, and I felt that it and other rather vapid philosophical conversations were the weakest part of the movie.

What’s far more interesting is seeing what these two teenagers do with a rather quaint and cozy town as their personal playground. There’s no darker impulses being played out here, but rather activities like “turn your gym into a lunar playground” and “hang out with your best friend jawing about pop culture.” The overall summer feel of the film helps to keep the mood bright and shiny, too.

Ultimately, there’s a little more to all of this story than appears, and it’s in the final half-hour that a narrative shift happens to reframe everything that’s come before it. It’s a good shift into a deeper place, and I thought it did well in showing a more nuanced side of the goofball Mark and the closed-off Margaret. Both of them grow up in a significant way, and not just from True Love’s Kiss. That was the better part.

I simply found The Map of Tiny Perfect Things to be a delightful and genial movie that’s, by and large, upbeat and charming. That may not sound like a profound judgment, but so many movies these days veer off into hugely depressing, crude, or jarring themes. This film resists this trend and instead makes a Hallmark card out of two likable kids, the oddities of time repeats, and a feel-good setting. This is exactly how you wield a time loop: Not as the central concept, but as a narrative device to tell a story that simply needs more than one of the same day to fully tell.

Didja notice?

  • When you know the time stream, you can copycat your annoying sister perfectly
  • We’re not 8 minutes into this when Groundhog Day is mentioned
  • The haircuts are pretty funny
  • Everyone would love to go on a steamroller rampage
  • Stomach tattoos are fun to spring on your dad
  • The coolest high school gym ever
  • He’s pretty low-key about the not-drinking thing
  • Lots of Doctor Who references
  • Grenade launchers are for launching grenades

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