By Kirsten Coachman
In a blink and you might just miss it moment at the top of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” a felt board message gets real: “The universe is big—it’s vast and complicated, and ridiculous.” And for one 17-year-old aspiring artist, it’s also currently stuck on repeat.
Stuck in a time loop for an indeterminate number of days, Mark (Kyle Allen, “The Path”) has been reliving the same summer day and seems to be the only person aware of this occurrence. He wakes up to the sound of his mom driving off for a long day at work and then joins his dad, Daniel (Josh Hamilton, “Eighth Grade”), and younger sister, Emma (Cleo Fraser, “The Unicorn”), in the kitchen for breakfast before setting out for a day filled with random moments that he can set his watch to.
Mark moves through his routine with relative ease—sometimes with the use of heavy machinery—and it seems fulfilling enough for him. However, all of that changes with the abrupt appearance at the local pool one morning by an unknown young woman, Margaret (Kathryn Newton, “Freaky”), who takes him by complete surprise—especially when it turns out that she’s also been experiencing the day on an endless loop.
Directed by Ian Samuels (“Sierra Burgess is a Loser”) and written (and based on his own short story) by Lev Grossman (“The Magicians”), “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is a pretty fitting story for these times. While some days can feel like a never-ending loop, others still manage to put forth a sense of wonder and hope. And the film, through the characters’ search for random things that collectively make a day perfect, invites its audience to do the same: to recognize these moments and savor them. Watching Mark and Margaret find these little joys—from a turtle taking its time crossing the road to beautifully flowing leaves in a lake—is comforting and truly an unexpected delight.
From a storytelling standpoint, it’s interesting—refreshing even—to watch these characters lean into having so much time on their hands and creatively finding a flow, even if it serves as a bit of a distraction from the lingering questions about what their futures—post-time loop—hold. It’s not surprising that Grossman centered the film around two teenagers because there’s no doubt that adults would have responded to the circumstances very differently. At 17, there’s already plenty to reckon with, especially in the face of adulthood. Despite finding common ground in their pursuit of these perfect moments, Mark and Margaret have their differences—not just in their individual long-term goals and time loop coping mechanisms but in their resolution to get to tomorrow.
Performance-wise, lead actors Allen and Newton share a strong onscreen dynamic in their depictions of Mark and Margaret. Allen brings an endearing charm and curiosity to his character with just the right amount of “Dr. Who” nerdiness. Newton, who’s already proving to be a force in the world of acting, showcases versatility in her portrayal of the assured, yet sensitive aspiring aeronautic engineer trying to get through the day.
Another bright spot in the film is Jermaine Harris (“Ballers”), who plays Henry, Mark’s video game-obsessed best friend. During Mark’s conversations with Henry, Harris’s expressive—and perfectly timed—reactions are a highlight throughout the film.
The Samuels-helmed “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” offers up a lot of heart and warm fuzzy feelings as it addresses time, how it’s spent, and keeping an eye out for the little things that can unexpectedly make a day perfect. It’s certainly not your average boy-meets-girl movie, but the best ones never are.
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.