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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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From: Silver Screen

‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ reminds audiences that some tropes are sweetly satisfying

‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ reminds audiences that some tropes are sweetly satisfying
Kyle Allen and Kathryn Newton star in Lev Grossman's take on a time loop romance.

In writer and director Lev Grossman’s science fiction romantic comedy, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” the idea of living for today because of the uncertainty of tomorrow is untrue for 17-year-old aspiring art student Mark (Kyle Allen). Just like Phil (Bill Murray) in “Groundhog Day,” Mark lives the same day over and over again, starting each morning asleep in bed and waking up to the sound of his mom’s car leaving for work. 

He at first relishes in the time anomaly’s opportunities: finishing his family’s sentences, winning the Powerball and saving the supposed girl of his dream every day by the pool as she nearly falls in after getting hit in the head with a beachball. However, every time he succeeds in saving her, she’s never interested in him. 

One day, as he prepares to save her again, another girl, Margaret (Kathryn Newton), catches the beachball mid-air and tosses it aside as she keeps walking. A stunned Mark realizes that she is stuck in the same anomaly as him, and the two become friends.

Together, Mark and Margaret map out the perfect things in their hometown that happen during the time loop: traffic stopping for a turtle, petals floating on a pond, a woman dancing after winning a game of cards, a custodian worker playing the piano. Eventually, Mark falls for Margaret only to be rejected. She explains that all she can offer him is friendship and he can either take it or leave it. He decides to take it. 

His unacquainted love is not the only thing he and Margaret differ on, however. They also don’t agree on the worth of getting out of the time loop — Margaret isn’t ready to go back to reality.

In an hour and a half, Grossman sets up a quiet, dreamlike film. Even as we watch “loud” moments happen, like Mark and Margaret destroying a show house, we don’t react with shock or uneasiness. This is not because the emotional arc of the film is unclear, but rather because the protagonists' developments are subtle and situated within the humor of them effortlessly reliving the same day.

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Where audiences may expect to find the overdramatized climax — perhaps a massive fight between the undefined lovers — instead we find Mark realizing that while he still loves Margaret, this story was never his to tell. Then, without giving away the twist entirely, the last third of the film suddenly switches narrators. This switch flows flawlessly and makes for a more dimensionalized exploration of an important character. 

The ending of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” left something to be desired with its employment of the tired romantic comedy trope of “the girl finally realizing she actually does like the boy.” However, the science fiction time loop seems to be limitless in its use.

In a tweet by Grossman on Jan. 28, he said, “I know people are saying the premise is like Palm Springs — because it is! — but it's actually based on an old short story of mine from 2016. We were already filming by the time we heard about Palm Springs. Parallel evolution.” Max Barbakow’s 2020 film “Palm Springs” bears a similar Groundhog Day-like plot, with two wedding guests sparking a romance while they live the same day over and over.

More seasoned cinema audiences may crave constant variety, but from my vantage point, the time loop trope isn’t trite just yet. If “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is like “Palm Springs,” I say the more the merrier.

The film’s assumed moral also isn’t trite: appreciating the little things is what will make the long spans of repetitive days worth it. Many have compared life in the pandemic to our own “Groundhog Day.” In the 1993 classic, Murray managed to escape the time loop by finding love. While Mark and Margaret escape similarly, they also have the perfect things to thank, a pleasant reminder to never stop looking for all that is good.

“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” will be available for streaming this Friday on Amazon Prime.

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