Producers: Akiva Goldsman, Gregor Lessans, Aaron Ryder and Ashley Fox Director: Ian Samuels Screenplay: Lev Grossman Cast: Kathryn Newton, Kyle Allen, Jermaine Harris, Josh Hamilton, Cleo Fraser, Anna Mikami, Jorja Fox and Al Madrigal Distributor: Amazon Studios
The idea of having to repeat the same day over and over again wasn’t a new one when “Groundhog Day” came out in 1993—it was alleged at the time that the idea had been ripped off from a TV movie of the same year called “12:01,” which went back to a story by Richard Lupoff published twenty years earlier, though one could point even further back to Charles Beaumont’s script for the 1961 “Twilight Zone” episode “Shadow Play.” The Howard Ramis-Bill Murray comedy became so perennially popular, however, that it’s invariably referred to when another movie latches on to the premise and takes it in a different direction or applies it to another genre.
So here is the teen romcom version, with a screenplay by Lev Grossman (the “Magicians” trilogy) based on his short story. The title might be more than a mite precious, but the movie by Ian Samuels is a pleasant enough diversion, largely because the leads prove an engaging pair and the movie avoids the utter sappiness that usually afflicts the genre of teen romances. (Not that it’s totally absent here, but it’s kept to a minimum.)
The initial focus is on Mark (Kyle Allen), a lanky seventeen-year old (an aspiring artist—aren’t they always, if not would-be musicians?) somehow trapped in a loop that finds him waking just as his mother drives off to work and going downstairs, where his father Daniel (Josh Hamilton) and kid sister Emma (Chloe Fraser) are eating breakfast. Saying hi, he’s off—not to school of course, what would be the use of that?—but on a ramble through their small town. He follows a regular route, and has grown so familiar with people’s routines that he can intervene nonchalantly in what they do. His main interest, though, seems to be in scoring a date with a pretty girl (Anna Mikami) he interacts with at a swimming pool—always striking out.
One day, though, he spies Margaret (Kathryn Newton) at the pool, and suspects that she’s in the time loop as well. He tracks her down and suggests that they spend some time together, and though initially standoffish, she eventually agrees, although she has to leave every day at exactly the same—to visit her boyfriend, he assumes. Finally they decide to use their days to compile a map of all the delightful little events that occur in the town during their repeating day. Maybe doing so will break the cycle.
Most of the tiny things they record (and Mark makes a map of, which he presumably remakes every morning) could be described as perfect only in a most liberal sense, but they’re nice enough—and so is the movie, overall. That’s because Allen is an attractively gangly fellow who makes Mark’s turn to responsibility almost credible, while Newton had the chops to show Margaret shedding her tough exterior gradually.
True, matters slip into maudlin territory from time to time, especially toward the close, but that’s obligatory in even the most good-natured teen comedies. And while the movie is basically a two-hander, the supporting cast adds some nice grace notes. Jermaine Harris is amusing as Mark’s video-game-crazy buddy Henry, whom he (and eventually Margaret, too) visit, and Hamilton is good as Mark’s father, about whom we learn a sad secret toward the close. Even Fraser isn’t the obnoxious kid sister so frequent in the genre. And Al Madrigal shows up for an amusing cameo as Mark’s math teacher.
The film was shot in Fairhope, Alabama—the same town where the recent “Our Friend” was lensed (and where that real-life story actually occurred)—and has a genial fairy-tale look, thanks to cinematographer Andrew Wehde and production designer Kara Lindstrom. It’s edited to a trim ninety minutes by Andrea Bottigliero, with a Tom Bromley score that’s bouncy without getting annoying.
“Map” may not prove to have the longevity “Groundhog Day” has had, but it’s a better-than-average addition to a genre that, true to its premise, practically invites replication.