THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS— 4 STARS
When the two central lively teens in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things finish a walk-and-talk day around their hometown that might as well be an unofficial first date, the girl turns to the boy, not fishing for any kind of first kiss, shakes his hand and says “thank you for your time.” More often than not, it’s a non-confrontational line of courtesy that punctuates the end of a tedious phone call or a lackluster job interview. Yet here, it’s a bit of a rug pull for how their spark-filled, magical day ends.
LESSON #1: BE THANKFUL FOR YOUR TIME— But what if it wasn’t a throwaway departing bouquet? What if that mini-message was literal with its graciousness? How sweet would that recognition be for the preciousness of shared quality time? That’s the beaming beauty of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, an Amazon original film. Its frank positivity does its absolute best to wash away any monotonous dread that comes with the day-to-day grinds of uncertain life.
For the impressionable young woman and clearly smitten guy, played by Freaky’s outstanding Kathryn Newton and future West Side Story cast member Kyle Allen, all hope is far from lost after this first unified encounter. They get to do this all over again. Playing in the self-aware Groundhog Day and Palm Springs pond, their Mark and Margaret are stuck in a temporal loop, repeating the same sunny Alabama spring day that ends with the hints of a cleansing thunderstorm at midnight that never comes before the alarm clock awakens the restarted day.
Mark has made the most of this repetition. He seemingly has learned every beat and move of what’s going on around him, gliding through an elaborate daily dance set to music among his family, friends, and fellow townspeople as a do-gooder correcting little mishaps and bringing serendipitous cheer. On the more self-serving side with his infinite do-overs, Mark has been trying to coordinate and accelerate the romantic attention of a classmate (Anna Mikami) he pines for. That all swerves in one loop with the new intersection of Margaret.
The tow-headed and straight-forward girl has been more academic and isolated with her interminable calendar. As off-the-cuff as she is, Margaret carries a doubting gloom with her manner where this isn’t the best day to be stuck in for her. Mark, especially, wants it all to mean something with “seize the day” gusto. Margaret is merely trying to survive the ordeal so the “day doesn’t seize” her. With good convincing, it’s Mark that lifts her spirits and becomes new quality company for their unlimited time.
LESSON #2: LITTLE THINGS ARE LIFE’S PERFECTIONS— Mark gets Margaret to notice unique details of the town and its citizens. From the public quest for a lost dog, for example, to several little sights and happenings involving strangers all over, the energetic duo seek to document all of the special moments. Some they merely witness with private celebration. Others they orchestrate to make happen. Each is a memory tied to a shared place. Each is a lovely flutter of appreciation for how perfect singular moments in life are, both good and bad. When a movie gets you to see that within yourself, that’s a Pixar Punch level of effect.
This peppy quest multiplies the infectious zeal of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. The Magicians trilogy writer and TIME magazine contributor Lev Grossman was granted the chance to adapt his own short story into the movie’s screenplay directed by Ian Samuel (Sierra Burgess is a Loser) for his second feature. The personal touches and the setting’s genre “rules,” so to speak, shine through very well to not be a retread of ideas we’ve seen played before. The backbone of a solid time-travel movie is its editing, and Andrea Bottigliero outdoes herself arranging and duplicating all of the manufactured happenstance.
Folks will call The Map of Tiny Perfect Things convenient and contrived and shamefully miss the core thankfulness. Newton and Allen, though both a little too old to play convincing wallflower towns, incorporate enough character flaws and melodramatic fears to add moldable morality to their attractiveness. We root for them, which is the successful point after all the nudges to love the little things about life. There’s a place for comeliness like this even if it comes easy. Go ahead and thank this movie for your time with no backhanded dismissal.