My general issue with young adult (YA) romance films stems from them typically meshing a coming-of-age storyline with some fantastical premise to make the plot more interesting. I’d rather they pick just one of the two and commit to it.
In the coming-of-age camp, I love Lady Bird, The Fault in Our Stars, and Perks of Being a Wallflower. As for the sci-fi premise, in this particular case, I love Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, and the most recent Palm Springs.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things resembles its title very well. It’s a collection of the moments that work in all those films I named and tries to make a convincing romance out of it. Did it succeed? Well, yes, but it took a while to get there.
The Conventional First Half, with Some Problematic Storytelling
I found the first half of this film to be extremely conventional. As it begins, Mark (Kyle Allen) is already inside the time loop and waking up for the nth time. He’s already fluent with the timing of every single little detail in his day. Then one day Margaret (Kathryn Newton) comes along and breaks one of his routines, revealing that she too is inside the loop, doing her own thing. The two get to know one another and… this is where the film really goes through the motions.
They hang out, do fun stuff, chat a bit about their outlooks on life, and they hang out some more. Every day, they do something different, and you’re wondering just where the story is heading. Pretty soon, it’s clear that the story just doesn’t have a conflict or clash of motivation between its two leads until about forty minutes in. It also doesn’t help when the film doesn’t visually stand out. It’s often shot and framed like a Lifetime movie; the one exception is a well-choreographed scene near the midpoint that’s shot in one take.
With both Mark and Margaret already used to their day in the time loop, there’s no place for reactions or urgencies or motivation to break out that we can get on board with. Instead, we just hang out with them and trust that the story is indeed leading to something. Thankfully, it does.
In the meantime, though, the writing does dive into some problematic territories. Mark’s sister (Cleo Fraser) suddenly becomes a more important character by dropping significant plot points out of nowhere. But the most eyebrow-raising one is Mark having a best Black friend (Jermaine Harris) to consult expository dialogue with from start to finish. Yes, that’s his only role in the film, and if my memory serves me well, the script takes an awfully long time to finally tell us that yes, he does in fact have a name – it’s Henry.
Then It Becomes Interesting and Emotionally Rewarding
And then the film starts to get better – actually much better. A couple of turning points later, the messages and themes of the film start to reveal themselves, and suddenly it all got way more interesting. One particular moment involving a soccer game made me audibly exclaim, “Hey that’s actually kinda neat.”
The script even goes so far as to shift protagonists for a good portion of its third act. Sure, the overall story structure becomes a bit wonky that way, but it’s a necessary decision to help fill in all the missing colors to our picture. The end result is we get a fantastic performance from Newton, and together with Allen, their chemistry holds the film together.
Meanwhile, the young audience has a plethora of healthy life lessons to take home after this. Cherish the little things in life because everything is temporary. Live in the present and be brave to take on the next day. Despite losing time bit by bit each day, we will gain so much wisdom and knowledge if we live for other people in addition to ourselves.
At the end of the day, every YA romance movie is made to make you root for its lead couple to get together, but The Map of Tiny Perfect Things managed to use its time loop premise to give us a little bit more than that. Not only was I happy that Mark and Margaret got together, but I was delighted to see that they are now stronger and braver people because they’re not alone.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things: Despite the Tropes, It Still Works
This pattern of time loop movies proves one thing: we tend to enjoy the same premise over and over again. Add horror and mystery to it and you get The Final Girls, Happy Death Day, and Russian Doll. Add sci-fi action and you get Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code.
At the end of the day, even though The Map of Tiny Perfect Things borrows a lot of these tropes, the reality is this film targets a different demographic, and it’s okay for all these films with the same premise to exist. It’s also perfectly okay to enjoy all of them for their own respective reasons.
Despite its conventional, problematic, and at-times tedious first half, the story eventually finds its footing halfway through and delivers something new and emotionally rewarding. Its heart is in the right place. The themes and performances make The Map of Tiny Perfect Things a good enough movie for me to recommend, especially if you’re a young viewer or a viewer young at heart.
Did you see The Map of Tiny Perfect Things? What did you think of the film? Share below!
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things will be released worldwide on Amazon Prime Video on February 12, 2021.
Watch The Map of Tiny Perfect Things
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.