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Love in the loop – ‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’

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Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

The big daddy of them all is “Groundhog Day,” obviously, borne aloft by the brilliance of Bill Murray and Andie McDowell and Harold Ramis and – let’s be real – the delightful Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s the grandaddy of them all, the OG.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Of course, our most recent entry into the canon was the excellent “Palm Springs,” which set Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti loose in a delightfully loopy love story. It’s the freshest and most timely effort we’ve seen in ages.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Thank you – I’ll be here all week.

That dumb bit is in service of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” currently streaming via Amazon Prime Video. The film – directed by Ian Samuels from a screenplay that Lev Grossman adapted from his own short story – is yet another riff on the time loop trope, adding a high school love story into the mix that gives it a little distance from some of the more well-known entries into the genre (entries that the film itself is unafraid to reference to humorous effect).

Now, this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The filmmakers have a clear understanding of what makes these types of narratives work; they lean into the repetition and embrace the comedic possibilities therein. I’ll grant that such an approach limits the film’s ceiling, but it also assures a high floor. This leaves us with a movie that, while not necessarily great, is a pretty good viewing experience.

We meet high school student Mark (Kyle Allen, “All My Life”) on what at first glance appears to be a typical day. But as soon as he gets out of bed, it is clear that not all is what it seems. Mark seems to know everything that is going to happen before it happens. From his breakfast encounters with his father Daniel (Josh Hamilton, TV’s “13 Reasons Why”) and his younger sister Emma (Cleo Fraser, TV’s “The Unicorn”) through his seemingly-charmed journey to school and beyond, it all appears to be following a set plan.

As it turns out, that’s because this isn’t Mark’s first go at this particular day. In fact, he is trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. No matter what he does or how he spends his time, at precisely midnight, it all disappears and he wakes up that morning. He amuses himself through various means. Sometimes, he tells his best friend Henry (Jermaine Harris in his feature debut) all about what’s happening, knowing that it’ll all reset. Other times, he halfheartedly attempts to woo a girl named Phoebe (Anna Mikami, “Birds of Prey”) that pops up in various places during his day.

But it all changes when Margaret (Kathryn Newton, “Freaky”) shows up.

As it turns out, Margaret is in the same time loop as Mark. Finally, he has someone with whom he can share the experience. But it isn’t as easy as all that; Margaret has her own motivations and her own ideas about how this infinite supply of time should be spent – and she’s not necessarily forthcoming about those motivations.

When Mark proposes a solution for their dilemma – seeking out the myriad unique and special moments that the two have encountered in their eternal reliving of the day – and begins crafting the titular map, one that documents all the small beauties that the day has to offer, the two grow closer. But the truth about the time loop – and what it will take to end it – will only come out if Mark and Margaret can be honest with each other … and with themselves.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Sorry – had to.

“The Map of Perfect Things” works because it doesn’t try to do too much, instead choosing to fold its charming central pairing into a fairly standard model. That isn’t to say that we’re lacking in interesting choices – the opening sequence, where we first watch Mark make his way through the day he’s already lived untold times, is stylistically engaging while also serving as a full expository introduction – we know everything we need to know about Mark’s current experience within the space of a few minutes.

Allen and Newton make a strong central pairing; the chemistry between them gives the narrative some stability. The supporting players are very good as well – Harris in particular is great, delivering some of the film’s best lines in his capacity as Mark’s sounding board.

“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is an amiable enough take on the time loop trope. As I said, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. And it certainly won’t make you forget the more ambitious achievements within the genre. But as an entertainment, it’s got plenty of charm. A fun watch that doesn’t pretend to be anything more – a welcome rarity these days.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 15 February 2021 12:00

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