Time-loop movies continue to be all the rage, and while Groundhog Day (1993) remains the champ with Edge of Tomorrow (2014) holding onto second the rest of the field is wide open. Last year’s Palm Springs (2020) saw Hulu bring some fresh energy into the mix, and now another streamer has released their own foray with a story about two teenagers living the same day over and over again. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a sweet, funny film focused on one of life’s most important and enduring lessons.
Mark (Kyle Allen) wakes up, interacts with his dad (Josh Hamilton) and younger sister (Cleo Fraser), and goes about his day around town with the knowledge of someone who knows exactly what’s going to happen at every moment. Of course, that’s because he does know. He’s been waking up to the same exact day for an incredibly long time now and has the beats and movements of this world down to a science — until the moment she enters the frame. Margaret (Kathryn Newton) is new to his day, but Mark quickly discovers the day isn’t new to her. Margaret’s trapped in a daily loop too.
The two soon bond over their predicament and even collaborate on a town map showing all of the perfect little moments that people too often miss. A janitor playing piano in an empty shop. An elderly woman dancing for her overjoyed husband. A girl skater impressing the boys with a tough landing. A special cloud formation. These beats are all over town, but as Mark grows ever fonder of Margaret she remains just a little bit distant and distracted by the man texting her every day at six o’clock.
Like every time loop movie of the past thirty years, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things owes a debt to Harold Ramis’ still-brilliant Groundhog Day for both the mechanical and thematic approach to its story. Unlike most others, though, the characters here actually acknowledge that connection aloud alongside a few more pop culture references. Writer Lev Grossman (The Magicians, 2015-2020) and director Ian Samuels (Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, 2018) know their film is hitting familiar beats between the characters’ routine, good deeds, and downward spiral, but they find their own way and voice well before the credits roll.
Mark has long since settled into the day as his inevitable eternity, but time spent with Margaret — and a renewed interest in an actual future — see him once again search for the key out of this temporal prison. As with Ramis’ touchstone, that involves efforts to better himself, be the hero to others in big and small ways, and even approach it logically like it’s just one big puzzle in need of solving. The journey leads to plenty of fun, sweet moments, and both Samuels and cinematographer Andrew Wehde capture it all with real vibrancy. The opening sequence is a sharp single-take featuring elaborate choreography as Mark weaves through town on foot, on bicycle, on truck, and the technique returns a few times throughout injecting more life into what otherwise can at times feel familiar.
That energy carries over into Grossman’s characters as both Mark and Margaret are engaging, quick-witted teens while still being far from the know-it-all teen archetype. (She’s never seen 1981’s Time Bandits!) Allen and Newton make for charismatic guides in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, and both convince in their tenuous balance between curiosity and ennui as they show genuine joy at life’s smaller moments while still feeling lost in the big picture. The inevitable romance comes naturally, just as the expected roadblocks lend power to the drama and emotion, and all of it is heightened by a subtle but unusual shift in focus.
Grossman’s no stranger to dropping young people into fantastical situations as his hit Syfy series The Magicians did so on a regular basis (albeit with a lot more sex along the way). We get lots of sci-fi jargon and references here including multiple mentions of Dr. Who, but he never lets them drown out the humanity of it all. Loss, love, and the need for human connection run strong throughout the film, and while the “tiny perfect things” of the title are flashier in their presentation those more relatable moments are no less powerful.
All of the usual lessons fall into place here, but biggest observation in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things comes down to a universal truth too many of us forget — it’s not always about you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to step back and let someone else’s story take center stage, and if doing so helps you too? Well that’s just a perfect little bonus.