Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a guy is trapped in an unending time loop where he’s forced to live the same day over and over again. Pretty familiar, right? We saw it in the terrific comedy gem “Groundhog Day”. We saw it last year in the not-so-terrific “Palm Springs”. We saw it in the fun sci-fi action flick “Edge of Tomorrow”. Now we get a Valentines season teen rom-com that attempts to bring its own flavor to the well-worn premise and does so with pretty mixed results.
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is directed by Ian Samuels and written by Lev Grossman. The film is an adaptation of Grossman’s own short story and stars two young up-and-comers with enough charisma and chemistry to keep things interesting. Unfortunately it’s not quite enough the shake the feelings that we’ve seen this narrative, these characters, and their inevitable relationship several times before. Still there’s something to say about good performances and their ability to infuse life into an otherwise shaky story. And to Grossman’s credit, he adds some needed emotional weight in the final 15 minutes that makes this more than some meaningless retread.
The story begins by introducing us to Mark, a spirited high school teen played by Kyle Allen (who looks old enough to be out of college but be that as it may). Mark wakes up every morning to the exact same day, one that continually repeats itself before resetting each night at midnight. Mark has been in the loop long enough that he’s attuned to every detail, every event, every conversation. You could say he’s the king of his own ‘temporal anomaly’ where everyone but him follows the script and then rinses and repeats.
But there’s a ripple in Mark’s cyclical existence when he sees Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a rogue addition to this tightly scripted world. Realizing he’s not the only person with free will stuck in the loop, Mark is immediately enamored and full of questions. Where did she come from? Does she know how this happened? What has she been doing all of this time? Does she think he’s cute? After following her around a bit Mark finally introduces himself. At first his playful enthusiasm clashes with Margaret’s distant curiosity. He’s an open book, laying everything out without a second thought. She’s harder to read and with things in her life she would rather keep to herself.
Of course the two soon develop a peculiar connection which the movie spends the bulk of its time exploring. A long stretch of the story ends up playing like a conventional YA romantic comedy, surviving on the charms and chemistry of Allen and Newton. Both are really good but they can only keep the movie afloat for so long. But just as the movie starts to sink (and I was about to check out), Samuels and Grossman inject it with feeling and pathos. The story adds some layers to the characters, particularly Margaret, that helps us to see them as more than just another cutesy teen movie couple. And while it doesn’t fully avoid the temptation to slap on a little sap, the ending lands well enough and makes the rest of the film (rough patches and all) seem more meaningful.
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” isn’t something that will stick with you long, but it does (barely) save itself in its final act. Even more, for those who don’t know them, it’s a nice introduction to two talented young stars with a load of potential. I think it’s safe to say Allen and Newton have promising careers ahead of them. I doubt this movie will go down as one of their best, but if you’ll stick with it through the rocky and not-so-original middle you’ll find it endears us to these characters in a thoughtful and surprising way. “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
VERDICT – 3 STARS