“THE MAP OF TINY PERFECT THINGS”
Starring Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen, Jermaine Harris, Anna Mikami, Josh Hamilton, Cleo Fraser, Jorja Fox
Screenplay by Lev Grossman
Based on “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” by Lev Grossman
Directed by Ian Samuels
Produced by Akiva Goldsman
Cinematography by Andrew Wehde
Edited by Andrea Bottigliero
Music by Tom Bromley
Imagine if you were suddenly, with no warning, trapped in some weird time warp, some unexplained cosmic space-time continuum disruption, in which you lived the same day over and over again, with only you remembering what you did each time you lived and relived that same day. And imagine if you eventually, slowly, learned through living the same day over and over again how to improve yourself, how to learn about helping others, how to learn to be a better person overall, and how to, generally, learn about life and love.
Does all of that sound familiar? Of course it does–that’s the basic premise, foundation, story and plotline of Danny Rubin’s and Harold Ramis’ 1993 classic film “Groundhog Day.”
So when you’re writing a film with, basically, exactly the same premise, foundation, story and plotline, one of the first things you have to do, if you want to succeed, is reverently, clearly–and quickly–acknowledge in your new film exactly how similar, how exceedingly familiar, your new movie is to “Groundhog Day.”
Fortunately for the filmmakers of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” that is precisely what they do shortly into their movie. And that’s a good, smart thing to do–because “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is indeed about a guy who relives the same day over and over again, learning about himself, about improving himself, about helping others, and learning about life and love! However, it would be wise to note early on here that “Map…” is not really a remake, reboot, reimagining or rip-off of “Groundhog Day.” “Map” simply tells a similar tale, but in a slightly different manner–a slightly different manner that, truly, ends up being more like a homage, honor and tribute to Rubin, Ramis and “Groundhog Day!” And that is because, we should all be happy to know, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” surpasses and overrides the familiarity of its story and plot with cleverness, simplicity, charm, grace, style, humor, sweetness, romance and overall good intentions to be a beautifully entertaining movie that somehow ends up standing proudly on its own!
That is a proud achievement by all involved, because the Rubin and Ramis basic premise was a singular, original and inventive story. In a way. Yes, “Groundhog Day” was indeed influenced by a thousand other previous time travel, science fiction and fantasy stories, novels, television shows and movies itself, and by, in part, the concepts of rebirth and redemption presented in “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But Rubin and Ramis took their concept and elevated it to another dimension of their own, and they simply created a classic fantasy sci-fi romantic comedy.
Thus, it took some chutzpah for screenwriter Lev Grossman to adapt his own short story to a feature film with this same premise. But, as noted, if you’re smart, and you pay homage quickly to your inspirational and similar sources and influences, and then move on and present your own individual, imaginative, creative and somewhat-inspired presentation and story with that same theme, and are concurrently able to successfully and carefully craft your own world, characters, situations and plotlines, well, sometimes, filmmakers can succeed while traversing similar filmic territory.
Grossman does provide one unique twist to the Rubin-Ramis basic story, and it’s not a spoiler, really, to reveal this: There’s actually two people reliving the same day over and over again, and only those two people–characters Mark and Margaret–remember anything from the previous days in the continual loop. That’s one new element that works and provides some additional layers to the film’s story. The other strong new element is that these two people who are reliving their same day over and over again are teenagers–normal, average, every-day, middle-class, likeable high school students and teenagers. Well, make that normal, average, every-day, middle-class high school students and teenagers who are exceptionally good-looking, and who look like movie stars. That’s a compliment, because lead actors Kathryn Newton, as Margaret, and Kyle Allen, as Mark, are indeed attractive and filled with movie-quality style, charm, energy and presence. Newton, especially, shines and glows on screen, and it’s difficult to take your eyes off of her–not just because she’s beautiful, but because of her acting, which is strong throughout the movie. Allen is strong, too, and his character Mark is just as bewitched and bedazzled by Margaret’s beauty as viewers are!
But it’s not just about looks. Allen’s lead character, Mark, around whom most of the movie revolves, is attracted to this mysterious fellow teen Margaret because it’s clear she’s hiding something, and that mystery about her adds yet another layer to the plot. These subplots, of course, won’t be revealed, but be assured that the developing story about Mark and Margaret and their various dances around and with each other while they are reliving the same day over and over again are interesting, inventive and entertaining.
Allen and Newton turn in strong, likeable, endearing performances. Grossman and director Ian Samuels were smart in keeping Mark and Margaret completely likeable–even lovable. And they’ve intentionally kept this movie exceptionally nice–really. This is just a pleasant movie–the characters, situations and supporting players are all likeable, lovable people. And this, too, works. “Map” is never overly sentimental, melancholy, treacly or cloying. It’s just a nice movie with nice people–much like “Groundhog Day,” yes. There’s also a strong element of “Pleasantville” in “Map,” and how that movie, too, dealt with a fantastical time warp displacement theme, and how, generally, that film presented a town filled with nice, likeable people. Having a movie centered around likeable people shouldn’t be a surprise or revelation, ever, but, alas, this can be somewhat of a revelation and surprise with many modern-day movies where many of the characters are simply unlikeable, unlovable and just plain awful. Some modern-day movies even have a basic difficulty with enabling viewers to like, love and even care about any of the characters. Yes, that doesn’t make any sense, but it does happen with more consistent stupidity in more and more modern movies. Some filmmakers think it’s “cool” or reactionary to present movies filled with stupid, unlikeable people who are constantly yelling and screaming jackasses who no one can relate to or care about, yes–but most movies with this basic built-in disadvantage eventually fail, despite their filmmakers’ best intentions at being revolutionary. The basic filmmaking point here is that a movie–even an intended reactionary and revolutionary cool and edgy movie–needs likeable and lovable characters. Even if you movie is centered around villains or anti-heroes, the filmmakers have to somehow utilize tricks to make even that villain or anti-hero likeable and relatable. If you don’t present a character or characters who the viewer cares about, basically, you don’t have a movie that viewers care about.
Thus, thanks to Grossman’s heartfelt, charming, welcoming and nice story, we care very much about Mark and Margaret, and as the movie progresses through the many days that these two teens live and relive, we increasingly care about what happens to them. Additionally, the small group of supporting characters are also presented as nice folks–including nice performances from actors who play Mark’s best friend, Margaret’s mother, and Mark’s father and sister. They’re all just nice, likeable people–and, once again, it’s great to see a movie for once where all of the characters are likeable, nice, kind, caring–and intelligent.
That intelligence comes through in a heartfelt, emotional and kind-hearted screenplay from Grossman. He deftly balances the lightness of being in a time warp with the increasing seriousness of being in a time warp–again, much as Rubin and Ramis did in “Groundhog Day.” Grossman comes up with some inventive, interesting fun things for Mark and Margaret to do with their repeated days, but he also comes up with some serious introspection, inspection, reflection and examination by Mark and Margaret about their weird, unexplained and cosmically deep situation.
What would you do if you suddenly had to repeat living the same day over and over again, with seemingly no way out? What if just you, or just you and one other person, were the only people reliving this same day over and over again? Just what would you do?!
It’s still a valid, interesting, fun and challenging question. And even after repeated viewings of “Groundhog Day,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “The City on the Edge of Forever,” “Time After Time,” “Time Bandits,” “The Time Machine,” “12 Monkeys,” “The Terminator” movies, “Looper,” “The Butterfly Effect,” and numerous other time travel/space-time continuum disruption movies, books, short stories, comics and television shows that play off of time travel and similar themes, let’s face it, we all still wonder about just what we’d do if we could go back and forth in time, or, perhaps, relive the same day over and over again.
It’s basic, fascinating questions like these that stir the imaginations of writers and filmmakers. Fortunately, Lev Grossman and director Ian Samuels struck gold and managed to come up with their own inventive, entertaining and, yes, again, charming take on the “Groundhog Day” theme with “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things.” And they’re smart enough to include their own array of important themes, morals, points and messages throughout the movie.
Through their unexplained time loop experience in their nice small town, Mark and Margaret learn about themselves, about each other, about the people around them, and they also learn about how to navigate this scary thing we call life. They also learn how to embrace and cherish this scary thing we call love.
Thus, as cliched as it sounds, but it’s not really a cliche, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is a great science-fiction romantic comedy to see this Valentine’s Day weekend–whether you have a significant other or not. This is a movie that will simply pick you up, make you laugh and smile, make you feel good, and make you appreciate the better things in life and love. And what on earth could be better than that!
If you have your own map of tiny perfect things, add this movie to your list.