The “time loop” movie, in which one or more characters are forced to live the same day over and over again, will forever be associated with the iconic 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day. In the past decade, however, we’ve seen more than a handful of movies trying to replicate that magic by using the formula in various ways. We’ve seen sci-fi light novel adaptations (Edge of Tomorrow), horror versions (Happy Death Day), and just last year an award-winning dark comedy take on the sub-genre (Palm Springs). Our latest addition to the list is The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Amazon’s new adaptation of a short story by Lev Grossman, adapted for the screen by Grossman himself, and directed by Ian Samuels.
Samuels’ film is our YA romance twist on the genre, focusing on Mark (Kyle Allen) and Margaret (Kathryn Newton) as they’re stuck living out the same day for reasons unbeknownst to them. The film starts us off in Mark’s perspective, with an opening credits montage establishing that we are already well into him having lived this day many times. It’s a fun little subversion on this type of film. Usually we are with the characters when they first experience the start of the loop, the first time they’ve relived the day. It makes sense to typically start that way, but at this point we’ve seen this scenario played out so often that we get how it all works. We’ve seen all of those beats before, and it’s refreshing to see us jump ahead to a point where he’s already mastered this world, knowing every beat of the day before we ever even meet him.
Disappointingly, it seems as if his raison d’être is a fixation on a girl. He tells his friend Henry (Jermaine Harris) all about his obsession with figuring out how to get into this girl’s heart, and it has all of the gross connotations of someone who is reliving a day multiple times in order to perfectly manipulate an unknowing girl into falling for him. It seems as if this is where the story is going to go until a different girl, Margaret, intervenes, and Mark realizes that he’s not the only one stuck in the loop. Here’s where the story really kicks off, as the two of them bond over their shared existence in whatever is going on that’s made the two of them outliers from the rest of the world.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things then quickly settles into a rhythm of watching the two of them follow a somewhat typical romance movie plot structure They bond, but something is always in the way, and eventually there are clashes. Will they get together in the end? There’s only one way to find out! While Grossman’s script doesn’t ultimately pack in a lot of surprises, the movie does its best to survive on the charms of its two leads. Thankfully, Allen and especially Newton are mostly up to the task.
If you know Kyle Allen, it’s likely for his role as one of the main characters on the Hulu series The Path, or perhaps in his recurring stint on American Horror Story: Apocalypse. This is the first real test of his potential as a leading man, and he performs adequately. He certainly doesn’t have the standout charisma that you would hope to take us through this journey, but he’s likable enough and easy to root for. The real star, however, is Kathryn Newton. One of the young stars of Blockers and the lead in last year’s body-swap horror comedy Freaky (coincidentally from the director of Happy Death Day), Newton is clearly a face we’re going to be seeing for years to come, and not just because of her recently announced inclusion in a primary role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This movie lights up when Newton enters, and it makes you wonder why the whole thing didn’t just center around her. It certainly makes it a little easier to take the fact that the story does ultimately come down to the inevitable angle of Mark pursuing Margaret, taking away that fun little subversion of the romance plot and bringing it right back to where it looked like things were going to go in the first place. It’s disappointing that this had to be about that, but considering Newton’s charisma, things could have been a lot worse. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things doesn’t break the mold in any way, nor does it really do anything new with an increasingly used premise, but it’s amiable enough for an easy watch at night when there’s nothing else on.