“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” – Mark (Kyle Allen) is too cool for school, and quite frankly, he seems too cool for any formal or informal institution. This teen walks in the kitchen for breakfast with an assured confidence that most adolescents lack. Without a second thought, this know-it-all helps his father (Josh Hamilton) with a crossword puzzle, verbally duels with his sister (Cleo Fraser), catches a ceramic dish falling off the table with the reflexes of The Flash, and heads outside – that’s filled with miles and miles of blue skies and bright sunshine – to conquer the world. It’s more like seize his hometown, one that has all the feels of a modern-day Mayberry.
Director Ian Samuels did film this quirky and charming but also a bit frazzled teenage rom-com in the south, Fairhope, Ala. to be exact, with a population of about 15,000 (according to the 2010 Census). In this place – that sits on the Mobile Bay’s east coast – everyone should know your name. As previously and briefly mentioned, Mark’s dexterity is extraordinarily memorable. It’s a bit uncanny. Think 1988-Jean-Claude van Damme, as our young protagonist pops on his bike, ditches it, hops on the back of a moving pickup truck, finds a fresh cup of coffee on a car roof, climbs on a house rooftop, and slides through a window to visit his best buddy Henry (Jermaine Harris). Mark also pulls a slew of other head-scratching stunts within the first few minutes of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” that will have you asking, “What in the name of Fairhope is happening in this movie?”
Mark’s secret will not be revealed in this review, but he unexpectedly meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), who harbors similar gifts. The two connect and search for the meaning of life, in a way, by traveling every square inch all over this charming municipality and finding tiny perfect things. Not things, but moments, like a first bike ride without training wheels or a flawless score on an impossible algebra test. These two events don’t specifically occur in Samuels’ movie, but you get the idea.
A couple of filmmakers have attempted Samuel’s specific idea/gimmick (again, which will not be revealed in this review) with huge success, including an iconic 1993 comedy, but this movie scores fewer points. Through most of the 98-minute runtime, we are flying blind to the rhyme or reason behind Mark and Margaret’s shared extrasensory perception and the ultimate remedy for the pair to land safely.
So, Samuels and screenwriter Lev Grossman take us on an indie teenage ride and ask for their trust. Ever been talked into riding a towering, loop-de-loop metal roller coaster or perhaps taking a 3-hour tour off the coast of Hawaii in 1964? No, there are no real hazardous dangers that throw us off the rails or catastrophic storms that strand us on an uncharted island. Instead, the narrative runs in a place for long stretches, while wide-eyed Mark – an inspiring and inspired artist – pines for answers and a hopeful romance with the emotionally unavailable Margaret.
It’s a familiar case of dating-desires versus friend-wants, but it’s darn-near impossible to root against these young teammates. Will they find love? Truly, it isn’t certain, but Allen – who is an exceedingly likable kid – can carry a movie, while Newton capably plays Margaret as dispassionate and distant to guard against her vulnerabilities. Newton just played a teen possessed by a serial killer in “Freaky” (2020), but rest assured, Margaret isn’t guarding against any sketchy, deadly notions. While Mark sketches piles of penciled artwork, she – a math whiz – plugs together calculations like a 17-year-old Einstein.
Together, their collection of tiny perfect things could add up to enormous rewards. For us, our heartfelt smiles are enough.
⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Amazon Studios; Trailer credits: Amazon Prime Video