In the Loop: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021, directed by Ian Samuels)

  • Time until the loop begins: 10 minutes
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: Mom is dying of cancer.
  • Number of time loops: More than I could really count so I stopped.
  • Lessons learned: Time needs to move forward for life to have meaning.

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“I don’t know. I think maybe we’re supposed to become, like, better people,” Margaret (Kathryn Newton) tells Mark (Kyle Allen) when he’s saying they should spend their time loop days trying to discover all the “tiny perfect things” in the title. Then she adds, as an aside, “Though I don’t know how that could even be possible.”

I like a time loop story that understands time loop stories and The Map of Tiny Perfect Things definitely understands where it fits into everything. And as I said, I also like time loop movies that feature a character changing their hair in an extreme way. Mark does this three times.

When we first meet Mark, he’s been reliving this day for long enough to have the timing of every event down perfectly. It’s an amusing and fun opening sequence. He’s constantly retelling his friend, Henry (Jermaine Harris), about his day since his friend never remembers. (Also, his friend is quite occupied playing a video game — another apt time loop metaphor.)

But oh, one day he sees Margaret, the kind of girl who wears boots to the swimming pool, and she’s clearly in the time loop too. She has a bit of manic pixie dream girl in her — at least we’re lead to believe that (she reads manga and steals cars and everything!). Mark’s immediately infatuated, even if that’s just partially the only girl who understands what he’s going through.

Despite Margaret’s initial reluctance, the two do spend their days in the loop looking for all the small moments other people miss — an ad with wings on a bus perfectly lining up with a man on a bench, a young skateboarder landing a trick when everyone else failed — and more. Honestly, it’s all pretty earnest and sweet. Newton and Allen don’t have strong chemistry, but there’s a kindness to their performances that make it understandable that their characters would likely be drawn to each other even without the time loop.

It’s clear that Margaret is hiding a secret from Mark — particularly about a phone call she gets each day from someone named Jared.

Mark tries so hard to woo Margaret! It’s more than most teenage boys would do, truly, but I do question how he was able to set up that gym spaceship thing in that short of a period of time. They eventually try to escape the time loop together by getting on a plane to Tokyo, but mysteriously, Margaret gets off the plane before it takes off.

Like most boy protagonists in YA stories, Mark also has an insightful little sister, Emma (Cleo Fraser)vhe initially was mean to (I feel bad for all the little sisters in time loop movies). He goes to her soccer game and everything!

Much like Margaret’s earlier statement, Mark already seems like he was a pretty good person to begin with. He certainly had some short-sightedness, due to being a teenage boy, but he’s playful and gentle for the most part. After Margaret’s disappearance from the plane, he goes back to revisit all the “tiny perfect things” they discovered together (I do have a lot of questions about how they remembered all of these, but …). In the course of these revisits, he ends up in the hospital and finds Margaret there. The Jared who kept calling wasn’t her boyfriend! It was her mother’s doctor! Plot twist!

The movie shifts perspective a bit after this and focuses on Margaret. She realizes their map of tiny perfect things actually translates to a diagram of the fourth dimension (just … go with it) but there’s one point missing. She finds Mark at the pool where he first saw her and confesses about her mother and cancer and they kiss. They go to the hospital, Margaret says goodbye to her mom. The time loop ceases and Margaret and Mark go off to enjoy the rest of their lives together. Or the summer. Who knows?

The twist that it was not really Mark’s story is frustrating to me. I can understand what screenwriter Lev Grossman (who based it on his own short story) was doing — so many boys and men believe they’re the heroes of their own stories, even if they’re not, and it’s important that Mark saw this wasn’t really about him. But the audience was still following this character for most of the movie! Even if this story isn’t actually about him, it was still about him.

I liked it better the second time, knowing what was going to happen. In the end, though, I was left wondering what the movie would’ve been like from Margaret’s perspective. She should’ve been the hero of her own story.

But this movie is responsible for this entire project, so there is that.

Next week on May 25: Palm Springs

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.