After his alarm goes off and he takes his breakfast to go, Mark (Kyle Allen, “All My Life”) goes through a repetitive morning, throwing an empty coffee cup into a garbage truck approaching at just the right time. He gives a pedestrian directions before she asks. This is the premise of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things:” Mark knows every event that is about to occur, until he meets an aggressive and rather disheveled Margaret (Kathryn Newton, “Big Little Lies”) wearing aviators and an oversized sweatshirt.
As a rom-com with a somewhat overused temporal anomaly plotline, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” takes the “Groundhog Day” template and alters it to teach a lesson about accepting fate, letting go of grief and enjoying the little things in life. When Mark and Margaret discover that they’re the only two stuck in a seemingly endless circle of time, they decide to make the most of it. From spotting a bird catching a fish to finding a cloud shaped perfectly like a question mark, the two mark down all of the rarities they can spot. Although the film recycles older ideas, it does so in a charming way, shedding light on all of the beautiful little things that occur in one day.
But we’re still living in Mark’s world. We hear about Mark’s family and his problems and his aspirations. To Mark, Margaret is merely a supporting role for the first half of the film, making it difficult to sympathize with her when she seems distant, distracted and hesitant to spend time with him. What else could be so important when you’re living the same day over and over again?
It turns out that Margaret wished for this situation so that she could have more time with her mother, who’s dying of cancer. The story no longer belongs to Mark — who seems to have more superficial problems, like getting mad at his father or teasing his sister. It’s Margaret’s story, and it’s a much more interesting one. As a more nuanced protagonist, Margaret has a lot more to teach her viewers.
When this shift in focus happens, we’re left wondering if the first three-quarters of the story were led by the wrong protagonist. Mark is stuck in this time loop because he plays a role in finding the tiny perfect things Margaret needs in order to let go of the grief she’s been holding onto and continue living her life. He is just one singular piece in Margaret’s massive puzzle.
However, the choice to position Mark as the main character highlights the idea that we can only see the world through our own eyes. If we don’t try to gain perspective, we’ll always be living in our own bubble. We lash out at our friends and people we care about, assuming that excuses are being made when there’s much more going on than what we can see on the surface level. Through Mark’s eyes, Margaret seems flaky. But when the film shifts in perspective for the first time, we see her as brave, selfless and caring.
“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” reminds us that we don’t know what someone is going through until we take a walk in their shoes. And with the past year we’ve had, that’s an important lesson to be reminded of.
Although the basis of the film relies heavily on recycled ideas from a ’90s classic, the story extracts new meaning. Mark and Margaret share undeniable chemistry, and the film wouldn’t be a rom-com without a perfectly timed kiss in front of a pink sky at sunset. But if you’re looking for a sci-fi film, you’ll likely be disappointed.
The film throws around terms like the “fourth dimension” and “singularities” with little to no explanation and instead relies on common themes like “everything happens for a reason” or “love conquers all” to justify the time loop.
From the predictability of Mark and Margaret’s relationship to the recycled plot foundation, “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is a rom-com at heart. With two likable characters, a charming neighborhood and romantic gestures scattered throughout, the film encompasses the warmth of a rom-com while examining the complications of grief and love when they meet at a crossroads.
Daily Arts Contributor Laura Millar can be reached at email@example.com.