Amazon’s “Groundhog Day” for teens tries its best, but goes too heavy on metaphors instead of plot.
It’s easy to feel like time’s been stuck in an infinite loop recently. Especially when two movies are released within a year of each other that both ask the question, “What if we remade Groundhog’s Day, but with two people instead of one?”. Unfortunately for The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, a Y.A. drama streaming on Amazon Prime, it’s now the Volcano of time loop romances (the superior Palm Springs is the Dante’s Peak, of course).
That doesn’t mean Perfect Things has nothing to offer. When it’s not throwing metaphors at the wall to see which one is the most profound, it’s able to capture the feeling of being a teenager in unique ways thanks to the time concept.
Directed by Ian Samuels and written by Lev Grossman, adapted from his own short story, the film follows Mark (Kyle Allen) who finds himself stuck living the same Summer day over and over again. His purgatory life takes a turn at the neighborhood pool where he meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), another teenager reliving the same day. Together, they form a bond that only two young people stuck in a temporal anomaly can have.
As they explore their small town, they begin to notice the little moments that happen every day, like a biker taking a picture of a turtle crossing the road, or a janitor playing a beautiful piece of music on an old piano in the shop he’s cleaning. They compile all of these…tiny perfect things and draw them into a map. During the process, both characters grow closer, but also grow as individuals.
Most modern twists on the Groundhog formula are successful in unlocking different genres, like how Happy Death Day is able to upend slasher horror with the victim getting the chance to fight back again and again, or how Edge of Tomorrow is able to find new layers in sci-fi action cinema by using the time reset to turn itself into a difficult Xbox game.
When it’s not throwing metaphors at the wall to see which one is the most profound, it’s able to capture the feeling of being a teenager in unique ways thanks to the time concept.
Perfect Things doesn’t accomplish anything on that level with the Teen Film genre, but one aspect it nails about being young is how infinite summers feel. Unless you have a seasonal job, there’s no reason to ever look at a calendar or clock. The month of July seems to stretch into a decade when you’re sixteen. Samuels does some inspired editing in places that captures that feeling, making the day blend into itself over and over again, using timestamp moments like Mark hanging out with his friend, Henry (Jermaine Harris) who’s stuck playing the same level of a video game he can’t beat.
There’re also some fun wrinkles in the mechanics of the day reset. Mark finds himself waking up in bed at the stroke of midnight every night, no matter his location. The film thankfully sticks to its young adult audience by shying away from the darker, suicidal elements that are played for laughs in Groundhog’s Day and Palm Springs where the characters find increasingly elaborate ways to off themselves.
The film also tries to use its structure to show how lonely it can feel to be a teenager, but that’s when the script goes into a metaphor black hole, where characters make so many “profound” statements that it makes everything meaningless. Newton, an excellent young actress, who also happens to be considered the Best Golfer in Hollywood, is given the burden of being the film’s sound board for themes it awkwardly tells instead of shows, like when she has to spell out the symbolism of being stuck in time for Mark by saying, “”It’s like everyone else is dreaming and you’re the only one awake.”.
She’s finally given time to shine later in the movie when the narrative switches to her perspective, but the film mostly squanders her performance by relegating her to a hip, mysterious “Manic Pixie Time Loop Girl” character for Mark to crush on.
Despite the few moments of creativity, the film gets dragged down by the structure instead of liberated by it. One of the tricks Groundhog pulls that’s easy to overlook is the way it shows how mundane it can be reliving the same day, without being boring to watch. With scene after scene of characters talking about how hard it is to be young and directionless (we get it, you’re literally stuck right now), Perfect Things feels as never ending as the time loop the characters are trapped in.
The lessons learned by its characters, like how you’re not always the center of the universe, or how to let go of things you can’t control, are important for young viewers to grapple with, and the package the movie delivers them in is thought-provoking (if you’ve never seen any of the other movies mentioned here) but it can’t get out of its own way. It attempts to be mind-blowing, but it comes off as someone trying too hard in a high school philosophy class instead.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is now available on Amazon Prime.