Time loop movies and their iterations have been plentiful over the years. Each has been marked not only on the overall quality of the film but also in the way in which they took a relatively strict narrative structure and pushed the barriers set by the genre.
The Bill Murray-led Groundhog Day is the most notable time loop movie, and critics and fans alike will point to it when looking to draw comparisons for any new films that play with time loops. Groundhog Day had a dry sense of ennui, Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow added aliens, and last year’s Palm Springs added an extra layer of nihilism through characters played by Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti.
Palm Springs kept things interesting by showing what would happen if more than one person was stuck in a time loop. It’s this joint endeavor, along with a romance underscoring the film, that stars Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen capture in this year's charming The Map of Tiny Perfect Things.
Written by The Magicians author Lev Grossman and based on his book of the same name, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a winsome, romantic comedy with charismatic performances. One of the most underrated movies of 2021, here is why you should stream this sci-fi movie on Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by Ian Samuels, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things follows Mark (Kyle Allen), a clever teenager who has been living the same day in an endless loop for longer than he can remember. One day, his routine is disrupted when he meets Margaret (played by Detective Pikachu’s Kathryn Newton) who he learns is also stuck in a loop. The two gravitate towards one another and become determined to find all those tiny things that make that one day - any one day - perfect.
While the film’s ultimate goal is to see just how they’re able to escape a day with no end, its magic and magnetism are found in the acts of kindness they discover and their burgeoning love story.
There’s been a lot of talk of late of what it means to be a “nice” piece of art, especially in television. Shows like Ted Lasso drummed up the discourse on what nice comedy means and why we as viewers always look at it as if it’s happening for the very first time. (Look back and you notice this with Schitt’s Creek, Parks and Recreation, and many more.) However, Grossman wrote a truly kind piece of work that never feels cloying or manipulative but warm and empathetic.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things finds its warmth in how likable and understanding the two lead characters are. The “perfect” moments they witness are almost always, as the title would suggest, of the blink-and-miss-it variety. From a bird swooping over a lake at just the right moment to the lighting of fairy lights as the sun sets, the movie elevates the in-between moments that make up a day, which in turn makes up a life. As these moments unfold, both characters either find greater value in the family they have or contend with the grief of letting a loved one go.
What sets the movie apart is the fact that one of the characters prefers staying in this version of repetitive reality, fearful of facing harsh circumstances back in their regular timeline. We’re so used to watching lead characters who are in this type of situation contemplate ways to get out and fight for a chance to change their fate. So, it’s almost disorienting to watch a character accept the redundancy and to even temporarily prefer it to a life that moves forward.
The film also refreshingly makes a pivot two-thirds into the story. We, along with one of the main characters, learn that there are actually more supporting players in this story. Mark and Margaret are savvy, and they live in a world where they’ve been exposed to movies and stories about people stuck in time loops like theirs. Their awareness gives greater weight to what often can be a flighty film because it puts them in a similar position as the viewer, as people who know how movies have solved this dilemma but can’t make those rules apply to their own world.
Newton and Allen are tremendous actors with sweet onscreen chemistry. Even as their universe grows increasingly fantastical, their shared energy manages to bring the story back down to earth, grounding the more out-there moments or time-looping confusion with characters whose strengths and flaws are of equal measure. Perhaps, the film is most effective as it explores the idea of using a time loop as an allegory for a character's desire for things to stay the same so that they don’t lose someone they love.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a light and airy sci-fi romance, but it’s one that has a full understanding of the beating heart that fuels the story. It may look inconsequential. However, in dealing with the process of letting go and the painful awareness that even a day with small beauties can’t stay the same, the film argues that moving on can be less painful if the right person is walking right beside you, guiding you back into a world where the small moments are no longer taken for granted.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.