The Movie Guru: “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is sweet and lyrical
If there’s any genre that runs the risk of feeling repetitious, it’s “Groundhog’s Day” style time-looping movies.
It’s a treat, then, when one manages to avoid that particular pitfall. The latest movie to do just that is “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” the quietly sweet YA romance streaming on Amazon Prime starting this Friday, Feb. 12. Though the familiar tropes are all there, the movie transforms them into a delicate needlepoint of a love story sprinkled with some unexpectedly lyrical moments. Propelled by fantastic, naturalistic performances by Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen, it’s a worthwhile journey even though we all know how the story is going to end.
The movie starts with Mark (Allen), a teen who already has the experience of this particular summer day down to a science. He knows enough about fantasy and science fiction to be searching for the metaphorical life experience that will finally allow him to get out of the loop, a process he tries to work out with a friend who forgets all of it each time the day repeats itself. When something new finally happens, Mark meets Margaret (Newton) and realizes there’s more to the story than he ever imagined.
“Map” is clearly aware of all the movies that came before it, briskly addressing a lot of early tropes in the first several minutes. Part of this is a glorious bike ride through town that also introduces us to the long, beautifully-choreographed shots that will come up again throughout the movie. They’re a treat every time they appear, a ballet that packs in a ton of silent storytelling, and they help give the movie a wonderfully lyrical feel that most time-looping movies don’t manage.
Also adding to that is the movie’s focus on the beauty of small, everyday moments. Though there’s some light discussion of singularities and the fourth dimension, the movie realizes most people in this situation wouldn’t be able to learn complicated physics or do anything truly world-changing. Instead, they focus on finding the “tiny perfect moments” of the title, finding the meaning of both life and the movie in the small, lovely moments accessible to all of us.
The main reason the movie works so well, however, is Newton and Allan. The two have a fantastic, natural chemistry, their performances imbuing extra meaning in lines that would have come off as cheesy in any other circumstances. It’s in them that the movie finds its greatest meaning, along with a subtle third-act thematic twist that I’ve definitely never seen happen in a movie like this. Though the ending then settles into more traditional territory, both for YA romances and time-looping movies, the thematic twist infuses them all with a subtle additional meaning that makes them that much sweeter.
In the end, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” isn’t actually a perfect movie. But as far as time-looping movies go, it’s one that’s definitely worth remembering.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language, some teen drinking and sexual references
Screenplay by: Lev Grossman, based on the short story by Lev Grossman
Directed by: Ian Samuels
Starring: Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen, Jermaine Harris, Anna Mikami, Josh Hamilton, Cleo Fraser, Al Madrigal, Jorja Fox, and more
Grade: Three and a half stars (out of four)