Déjà vu? How ’bout déjà slew?
Mark’s been dealing with a slew of déjà’s for a while now. The 17-year-old has lived the same sunny, summer day over again for—well, it’s hard to say for sure, because, y’know, the whole concept of time has sort of lost its meaning. But let’s just say that Mark should’ve graduated from summer school by now. And maybe from high school and college, too.
Yeah, sure, this time anomaly is a little derivative, Mark knows. It’s just like that Bill Murray movie from the early 1990s, only with less Murray and fewer groundhogs.
Or, at least, it was. Until Mark realizes he has company.
Her name’s Margaret, and he meets her by the pool. She just strides through the cavorting swimmers (who are cavorting just as they have for countless days) and catches a beach ball that, by all rights, should’ve bounced right off another girl’s noggin. Well, that’s never happened before, Mark thinks. Also, she’s kind of cute. And he begins to spend his days—well, day—looking for her.
He needn’t have worried. Given that they both have endless time to kill, it was practically a given that they’d run into each other eventually. And so they do.
It’s nice to have company on this sunny, summer, forever- rewinding day—someone to eat ice cream with, or steal steamrollers with, or search fruitlessly for lost dogs with. The fact that Margaret always leaves right around 6 p.m. after a guy named Jared calls … well, admittedly, that’s a little bothersome. But Mark’s willing to put up with it.
But the same day can get monotonous even when you have good company. And Mark begins to wonder whether there might be a way to break out of this temporal anomaly.
He realizes that, in their day(s) together, he and Margaret have found a few special moments—tiny perfect things. A hawk snatching a fish from a lake. A janitor playing the piano like a concert musician. A turtle slowly crossing the road, protected by a bevy of bikers. Perhaps if they found enough of those perfect things—collected them, as it were—something would snap, and they’d be free.
But Margaret wonders whether they’d really be free or actually trapped: trapped in time. Trapped with all the difficulties and heartbreak that time inevitably brings.
“Sometimes, I don’t want this day to end,” she admits. “I want this day to stay broken forever.”
But what if she gets her wish?
Like Groundhog Day, the movie this one will invariably be compared to, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a rumination on big questions. What is life? What does it mean? What are we here for? Mark comes to some of the same conclusions that Bill Murray’s weatherman reached, too: Life is about helping others—making the world a little better hour by hour, minute by minute.
When we first meet Mark, he’s as selfish and as self-absorbed as they come (albeit still pretty likable anyway). By the end, he understands that, even in this time-frozen world, it’s not all about him. But the story also comes to a bittersweet conclusion, too: Time is beautiful, in part, because it moves.
We might be sympathetic with Margaret at first, and her love of this frozen day in time. After all, they’re not in Pennsylvania in February. The day is sunny and beautiful. She and Mark are young, unencumbered by mortgages or disease. But Mark understands that despite and even because of their endless allotment of time, he and Margaret are missing out on the treasures that come with growing up and growing older.
“This is not time,” he says. “Time is the stuff when you spend it, you don’t get it back.” That’s what makes time so precious: We understand that it’s finite, the film reminds us.
Every day, before Mark goes to bed, his dad wants to sit him down and talk about his future. Finally, one night, Mark takes a new tack: He knows what he wants to be. “I’ve actually been considering joining the priesthood,” he says. “Or better yet, the Space Force. Or better yet, the space priests.”
The movie’s premise inherently has some spiritual undertones. In the end, it implies the existence of some all-powerful force capable of stopping and redoing time to instill a lesson or two. The movie acknowledges its metaphysical and vaguely spiritual underpinnings occasionally, though never with a great deal of depth. One afternoon, for instance, Mark quizzes his algebra teacher about what—hypothetically, of course—might cause a temporal anomaly: Could it be a wormhole? Is reality itself just a simulation? “Wiggly woggly timey wimey stuff?” he says, quoting Doctor Who.
“What if we’re in hell?” he wonders.
“The conversation is something how I imagine hell would be,” the teacher quips. “Maybe your spiritual advisor would be a more appropriate—” he adds before Mark cuts him off.
Mark also compares the day to some sort of Sisyphean cycle (name-checking the Classical Greek denizen of Hades who pushes a round boulder endlessly up a mountain, only to have it roll back down.) Margaret suggests it’s more like Ra (the Egyptian god of the sun who was born every morning in the East and died every evening in the West).
One of the couple’s “perfect things” involves a man sitting on a bench just as a van—a pair of wings painted across its side—stops for a moment behind him. It makes the man looks as though he’s an angel. Mark frets that every day Margaret disappears at sunset, “like a vampire.” (His friend, Henry, notes that that would actually be the exact opposite of what a vampire does.)
Before Mark and Margaret meet, he’s actually pursuing an entirely different girl—one who frequents the pool in a bikini. He talks about his efforts to get something to happen with her with his best friend, Henry—discussing how if he (theoretically) had infinite do-overs, he’d eventually have a chance with her. Henry disagrees, getting a bit more crass with Mark’s presumed endpoint. “There’ could be infinite ways for you not to get laid,” he says.
Mark develops romantic feelings toward Margaret, and he tries to figure out a way to kiss her and become a couple (only fitting, he figures, considering the circumstances). But for the most part, she shows little interest. “I just think that maybe we should be friends,” she tells him.
We see other women in bikinis, though mostly at a distance. Margaret sometimes wears tight tops with spaghetti straps, and we see her kiss someone a couple of times. Nudity is mentioned a few times in passing. Mark uses a pair of tongs to adjust a woman’s skirt (the edge of which was farther up her rear than it should have been). Someone rips his pants, revealing boxers underneath. Mark exposes his stomach. There’s some talk of creating a “stealth date.”
People crash while skateboarding off a set of stairs, and one suffers a broken arm. (The one who lands the move becomes a “perfect thing” in Mark and Margaret’s estimation.)
Another perfect thing: When a tennis player hits a portable water cooler with a tennis ball, and the ball ricochets right into the face of a player on another court. Henry plays a violent shooter video game in which he’s repeatedly (and gorily) killed.
Mark’s father is writing a book about the Civil War, and he notes that more people died during the battle of Spotsylvania than during the World War II invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy. (He ticks off some other grisly stats, as well.) Margaret notes that, on average, 150,000 people die every day.
We see someone who is expected to die tomorrow, if it ever comes—suffering from the last stages of cancer.
One f-word and two s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch” and “crap” once each. God’s name is misused three times (along with two uses of the abbreviation “OMG”). And while Jesus’ name isn’t misused, we do hear an exclamation of “Jeez!”
Mark, apparently, doesn’t drink, but Margaret does. Shortly after they first meet, Margaret pulls out a flask, which Mark sheepishly rejects. Then, when Margaret comes over to Mark’s house, Mark offers her a beer. She accepts, and he grabs one, too—but he only sniffs it and pretends to drink. (Margaret snags a martini off a tray to drink as well.)
Mark’s drinking pretention goes even so far as to excuse himself to urinate—due to beer, he says.
Mark apparently wins a lottery jackpot, though he’s unable to claim the prize. Later, he gives the winning ticket to someone with a pile of (presumably) losing tickets nearby.
Using the fact that they’re trapped in time as an excuse, Mark and Margaret steal a great many things, from coffees to cars, and they sometimes treat people pretty disrespectfully. “I know it’s wrong to laugh at someone’s misfortune,” Margaret says at one juncture, “but it is objectively hilarious.” Mark suggests he may have bribed a bunch of elementary school art students to design an elaborate set for him. The couple trashes a “perfect” show home.
Despite having endless days to ask, Mark spends most of his time clueless about how the other people in his life are spending their day. When he finally asks his little sister about her soccer game, she tells him that they lost, 0 to 3. He thinks about that for a while—knowing that she’s essentially living that bitter loss, day after day, cycle after cycle.
One day, he goes to that same game. And he watches his sister score a goal. We can’t know whether his sister’s team won suddenly. But we know something changed because Mark was there—cheering his sister on. His presence made a difference.
All this time, he confesses, “I thought [the day] was a love story and I was the hero. But it wasn’t about me. It wasn’t my story at all.”
This weird sci-fi, teen romance dramedy mash-up has some problems. The language can go south sometimes. Some light allusions to sex might be enough for some parents to press pause.
But compare it to most teen romances or dramedies, and the cautionary cartography of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is reasonably navigable. If we imagined most teen romances as maps, Plugged In would often scrawl in the margins, “here there be dragons.” In this, we might just point to an angry weasel or two.
And here’s the thing I love about this film: It reminds its characters, and by extension, its viewers, that it’s not all about us. Yes, we are authors of our own stories. But we’re players—minor or major—in the stories of so many others, as well. What part do we play in them? What part should we play?
The Map of Tiny, Perfect Things is not a tiny, perfect movie. It has its share of imperfections, to be sure. But in spite of some minor flaws, this film offers a surprising level of warmth and depth, and one that might spark conversations with your teens—the not-so-tiny, not-so-perfect people in your own life.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.