The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is yet another time loop flick that fails to do anything to energize its exhausted conceit.
Note to Hollywood: No more time-loop films. The concept has been exhausted, at least if the last several efforts have anything to say about it. It’s not clever to have characters reference other movies in the genre, as if your bid at meta forgives the blatant plagiarism — it’s just lazy. And after last summer’s Palm Springs, critics have nothing new to say about how the conceit mimics our quarantine-fueled lives. The latest cinematic attempt at temporal looping, Ian Samuels’ The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, doesn’t even merit credit for being the first to take the teen romance route, as Before I Fall beat it to the punch by four years. There’s nothing of note here, not a single kernel of anything the least bit original or, more troublingly, engaging. This is a film made for Gen Z — which seems to be its only conceptual pivot — a demographic that has probably seen Groundhog Day at profoundly low rates and will find plenty of these scenes — like the one where the two leads sit in a diner and eat junk food — fresh and unique. It’s a film custom built for viewers who see, “From the director of Sierra Burgess is a Loser” and unironically think, “yeah, I’m in.”
Lev Grossman adapts his own 2018 short story here, which follows high school senior Mark (Kyle Allen), as he becomes inexplicably trapped in a time loop that forces him to repeat the same 24 hours. He is seemingly alone in this personal hell until he encounters Margaret (Kathryn Newton), a too-cool-for-school type who has embraced the unique circumstances as an opportunity to appreciate the little things in life. They pair up to create the eponymous document, a guide that highlights the brief but ultimately indelible moments that most people overlook in their everyday lives, a quest that lasts roughly…one montage. Instead, then, most of the film consists of Mark desperately trying to woo Margaret, who mysteriously vanishes every night at 7:00 PM and whose backstory is straight out of The Time Machine, because this is a film prepared to rip off anything that deals with time-related anomalies. The cribbing is pervasive enough that viewers will be waiting for Bruce Willis to show up and blow Mark off the screen with a shotgun at some point, which honestly would not have been a welcome development.
Perhaps The Map of Tiny Perfect Things and its dearth of originality wouldn’t be quite so grating if it actually delivered any goods in the romance department, but its two leads have little to nothing in the way of chemistry. Allen is an appealing presence and gives a game performance, but he is way too old to be playing this part and, my apologies, looks it. Credit where it’s due, dude is good-looking, but his presence here is the equivalent of a 40-year-old divorcee who still shops at Forever 21. Newton, meanwhile, seems actively annoyed to even be in this film. That’s not to necessarily blame her, but it does result in a performance that is wholly off-putting. Part of that is by design, as dictated by certain plot developments, and part of it is a talented actress not being given the opportunities she deserves, though at the same time she does nothing to craft a genuine performance that could have potentially elevated the dumpster fire around her. That assessment is perhaps too harsh, but the problem is, who could care? If the filmmakers and most of the cast didn’t — which this lazy retread proves they didn’t — why should audiences? Just once, it would be nice if one of these films recognized that the lack of variance between these recycled scripts results in equally repetitious viewing, and, you know, switched things up. Instead, it seems we all must suffer through our own time loop of sorts. I guess I’ll see you in six months, when I write this same review again.
You can stream Ian Samuels’ The Map of Tiny Perfect Things on Amazon beginning on February 12.