Time loop rom-coms are having a bit of a moment. And it makes sense. We can all probably over-relate to the monotony of having each day look exactly the same as the last, stuck in a seemingly never-ending cycle where nothing ever changes. But The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is filled with small, subtle moments that defy the tropes of the genre, delightfully unexpected beats that keep it feeling fresh. Kyle Allen and Kathryn Newton are a winning combination, providing a charm and energy that makes their youthful romance entirely worth rooting for.
Mark (Kyle Allen) has “sort of a Sherlock thing”: he seems to be almost bizarrely prepared for every moment in his day, as though he can see each event coming a mile away. And there’s a good reason for that. He’s in a full-on Groundhog Day time loop, having lived this one unspectacular day over and over again for simply ages. He’s had the same conversation with his recently unemployed father (Josh Hamilton) and little sister Emma (Cleo Fraser), probably thousands of times. He even knows the exact man on the street who is most in danger of being pooped on by a bird. There’s almost nothing in his little town that has escaped his notice over the years he’s spent reliving this one day.
But since he’s a teenage boy, a lot of his energy is devoted to saving a girl from falling into the community pool, thus winning her admiration and love (or at least that’s what he thinks will happen.) It never quite works out. That is, until Margaret (Kathryn Newton) shows up at the pool out of nowhere, a bright spark of spontaneity in a world full of sameness. They are the only two people in their entire town who are aware of the time loop, so of course, they bond. Allen and Newton have a natural, easy chemistry that makes their growing connection with each other incredibly sweet and compelling and all the more rewarding as they slowly open up to one another.
It might seem as though the time loop romantic comedy, a burgeoning subgenre that it is, would start to feel a little formulaic. How many ways can this scenario actually play out? But The Map of Tiny Perfect Things makes many unexpected choices that are invigorating because they feel so thoughtful and emotionally intelligent. We learn well into the narrative that Mark’s mother happens to be working late on this particular day, the practical result of which is that he hasn’t seen his mom in — who knows? Years? Decades? It’s these sorts of clever touches that add richness to The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. They’re not twists, not exactly. Just tiny perfect gut punches along the way.
The entire piece feels as though it will be especially resonant for young people in 2021. It’s boring and monotonous to be living what feels like the same day every day, with nothing new or exciting to look forward to. You’re trapped in a prison of endless nothings. But then you think about the alternative, the unknowable future where anything could happen, and that’s even scarier. This is a generation coming of age in a world where their vision of the future isn’t sparkly and full of unlimited potential — it’s a grisly, portentous thing that (in their eyes) is only going to get direr as they grow older.
A lot of teens experience an existential crisis as they reach adulthood. Still, with a global pandemic, economic depression, political instability, and looming climate change, the threats they’re inheriting feel a little more existential than most. So the temptation to retreat into the comfort of stagnation is strong, to hide away from the world. But sooner or later, we have to face it.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a rare little gem: a well-written, clever, genuinely poignant teen romantic comedy. The performances from Allen and Newton go a long way into making audiences immediately connect with their characters, and the concept of capturing insignificant but somehow perfect moments is especially meaningful at a time when we’re all mostly being denied the prospect of fully experiencing our major life events. If time loop comedies are the new thing: so be it: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things stands alongside Groundhog Day as the gold standard.