Directed by Ian Samuels
Written by Lev Grossman
Streaming services have gained quite a bit of clout in recent years in the film/cinema community. When Netflix and Amazon first burst onto the scene of producing movies, they were often simple, underwhelming fodder to add content to their platforms. But both studios have now become major players on the film producing scene, garnering Oscar nominations (Netflix has three Best Pictures nominees in the last two years). But while both studios are now in the business of making great, awards worthy movies, they both still pump out a lot of content that seems perfectly suited for the streaming platform experience. And that’s okay! The services are designed to cater to all of their subscribers, and sometimes that means the simple, fun, and flirty rom-com, or teeny bopper drama. I don’t use those terms in any disrespectful way. Anyone that knows me knows that I will watch ANY movie, and I will damn sure enjoy ANY movie. When done well, these types of movies are just as fun and enjoyable as any other. The May of Tiny Perfect Things is one of these types of movies. It won’t garner any awards attention, and that’s not its goal. But is it just another throwaway streaming title, or is there something more there?
Mark (Kyle Allen) is in a continuous time loop. He experiences the same day over and over and over (yes, like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow, as the characters themselves point out). He is alone in this world, learning every minute detail. But one day, one of the details changes when a mysterious woman interrupts the beach ball from smacking the girl Mark likes in the head, something that has never happened in the time loop ever before. Intrigued, Mark spends the next few iterations of his day finding this girl, learning that Margaret (Kathryn Newton) is stuck in the same time loop. The two begin to spend time together and discover there are numerous “tiny, perfect things” that happen around their small town on this otherwise innocuous day, so they set out to map them all, all the while their friendship begins to bud.
There are elements of numerous successful films found throughout The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. As previously mentioned, the time loop trope is not new, Palm Springs just did a great job of it last year, but it’s a trope for a reason: it largely works because it allows the characters and us, the audience, to learn a great deal about them and the circumstance of the world in which they live. In this version, the twist of introducing a second character is a nice ripple, as is the twist on how they’re able to break out of the time loop in the end. It may be derivative and predictable in that sense, but it doesn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. Likewise, the budding friendship/romance between two young people is nothing new, and quite frankly not handled any different than any other teenage romance I’ve seen before.
What the film has on its side is good performers in the two central roles, particularly Kathryn Newton who has a little more complexity to Margaret than Kyle Allen gets to work with with Mark. She’s coy, mysterious, while also vivacious and fun. To see the two together, embrace their circumstance and make the most of it is sometimes very fun. Sometimes it’s not however, which is the first roadblock for the movie. They spend a lot of time together, doing a lot of different things, and not everything works within the narrative, making it drag in parts. Another aspect that doesn’t work, and ultimately sank the otherwise charming and entertaining film for me was the framing device. I think the film wants to be supportive of Margaret, wants to make her a strong, independent woman (and it mostly does), but ultimately there are a few details that are hard to ignore. Mark makes the revelation that the time loop is not his story, it’s Margaret’s, an insightful observation, but the film is still told from Mark’s perspective, he’s the central figure in the story. Additionally, the resolution of the film, and avoiding spoilers here, does Margaret no service in terms of her ability to have agency.
Oftentimes “the journey is the destination”, and there are moments in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things where the journey is a whole lot of fun. However, not only is the journey very derivative and at times drags, but even the destination, while sweet and predictable for a movie of this type, is problematic in some sense. It tries hard, and has the right intentions, but in the end, the film falls into the bucket of a throwaway streaming service film targeted for a specific audience who will likely gobble it up. And I have no issue with that, I truly believe there is an audience out there for this film, it’s just not me this time around.