THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS – Review
So, after nearly a year of…well, for want of a less annoying phrase, the “new normal”, are you feeling as though every day is the same? You know, predictable? Just like that nearly thirty-year-old comedy classic starring Bill Murray? Its setting is this month’s first big major holiday, so it’s on somewhere. That “bizzaro” premise has inspired lots of entertainment, from TV shows (“Russian Doll” on Netflix most recently) and other movies, in several genres. Even the horror/slasher flicks embraced it with the pair of HAPPY DEATH DAY romps in 2017 and 19. And just last year Hulu grabbed lots of attention and a few awards with its fantasy “rom-com” PALM SPRINGS. Now another streaming service goes much the same route, but just a touch younger with this effort which is based on a recently published short story, so this could be in the YA (Young Adult) novel adaptation arena. This time one of the heroes puts his endless spare time to productive use by rendering THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS.
And just who is this cartographer behind said work? Well, it’s high school teen Mark (Kyle Allen), who is already stuck in this “time loop” as the story begins. Though, “stuck” is a bit negative since he seems to be enjoying himself. He wakes up every morning just as Mom heads off to the “early shift” at work. Then there’s breakfast with his teasing pre-teen sister and his dad, who has quit his nine-to-five gig to write a great Civil War novel. Now Mark has the energy for his “controlled chaos” jaunt all around his cute suburban town (“Anywhere, USA”) as he steers folks clear of calamity while making the bustling town square his own playground. But with each “restart” he’s hoping to hang with a cute brunette he first helps out with directions. Later at the public pool, she’s bonked with a beach ball and plops into the deep end. Ah, but Mark can intervene, catching her by the hand (after many futile tries). Still, they fail to make a “connection”, though Mark can give it another shot once everything “resets” at midnight. Then, shockingly, the unexpected happens. Someone saves the girl from “big splash”. Mark is stunned by the cute blonde (in boots..in Summer), who dashes away before he can speak. Her image stays in the back of his mind as he keeps an eye out for her during his endless ‘day trip”, Finally they meet. She’s a math whiz named Margaret (Kathryn Newton), who is not at all fazed by their similar fate. They soon take to hanging out, sharing their favorite repeated sightings (an eagle catching a fish, a fella’ splitting his pants, etc.). Using his artistic skills (usually caped “super guys”), Mark draws up his “Map of Tiny Perfect Things” giving locales and time tables. Margaret enjoys it, but still continues to cut their day short in the late afternoon when she gets a call from a Jared? What’s their deal? Does Mark have a chance at romance with her? And could Margaret be the “key” to finding a way to push time forward?
The story’s familiar tropes are made more palatable by the energetic, and photogenic, couple at its center. Allen brings a “lovable lug” quality to the tale’s unusually optimistic hero, though he misses Christmas and birthdays. His athletic abilities imbue Mark with a bit of the old silent comedy stars’ physicality (think of Keaton and Lloyd teetering toward their doom), but this attitude aids in softening Mark’s “edges”, pushing out any of the dark consequences of his fate. The tougher of the two may be Newton’s Margaret who seems to enjoy being a goddess of calamity as she gleefully menaces the highway (she’s watched some MAD MAX flicks, for certain). She has a less polished attitude as some of her darkness seeps through during the couple’s constant escapades. At first, she seems to be the teen variant of the “magic pixie girl” but she’s a mystery to be solved rather than “wooed”. We really only get to know a few others in the “time bubble”. Josh Hamilton as Mark’s pop seems to be the more mellow, laid-back version of his always supportive pop in EIGHTH GRADE. Comic actor Al Madrigal (so good last year in THE WAY BACK) manages to wring a few laughs as the underwritten, kindly but baffled teacher. And TV “CSI” vet Jorja Fox tugs at the heartstrings in a pivotal role in the flick’s final act.
Director Ian Samuels gives the teen fantasy a nice wholesome sheen, perhaps in a nod to the pitcure perfect villages of beloved family sitcoms. He shows us the fun of the whole “loop life’ in several keenly orchestrated slapstick sequences but stumbles in swinging for the big romantic and tragic moments. Far too much time is taken up by musical montages of the duo frolicking with the daffy diverse townfolk, perhaps as a way for screenwriter Len Grossman to “pad out” his own short story. At the center of it, aside from their mutual predicament, Mark and Margaret aren’t a compelling couple, perhaps it’s chemistry or the plot dynamics. Even though it “name-checks’ the Murray movie, we’ll be viewing that 93′ classic every February forever, much much longer than the forgettable froth that makes up THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS.
1.5 Out of 4
THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS streams exclusively on Amazon Prime beginning Friday, February 12, 2021