A Wrinkle in Time | Ava DuVernay | March 9, 2018
Director Ava DuVernay (Selma, Middle Of Nowhere, 13th) aims for the stars with A Wrinkle in Time, her ambitious adaptation of the novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle. Many have said that this novel was unfilmable, but DuVernay took them to the task for the big screen adaptation that seemed prime for a release from who else but Disney. While I admire her ambition (and there’s no doubt that she and screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell certainly had their heart in the right place), A Wrinkle in Time was probably better left to the imagination of its young readers.
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is a bright child who once lived a normal life until her brilliant scientist father Alex (Chris Pine) vanished without a trace. It’s been four years, but Meg, her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, also seen in The Cloverfield Paradox), and her adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are still struggling to adapt to life without Alex’s presence in their lives. Meg walks through her days at school detached with a piece of her heart clearly missing wherever her dad is. She hasn’t given up hope of him returning, but she is certainly done pretending that she isn’t sad about it.
Her world is turned upside down with the sudden appearance of three otherworldly figures: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). They believe that her father is still alive, but aren’t sure where exactly, so they bring Meg, Charles, and Meg’s new friend Calvin (Levi Miller) on a dimension-hopping adventure to try and make the Murry family whole again.
DuVernay’s direction has a ton of ambition and wears its heart on its sleeve. The visuals are colorful and play with the idea of child-like imagination and wonder. It has so many well-intentioned messages on its mind and delivers them without ever hitting you over the head with them. It’s just a shame that all of this gets tossed to the side by its ambitious nature, which never came together in a coherent fashion. It felt like prior knowledge of the novel was needed to fully grasp the material, but reading the original source material shouldn’t be a prerequisite in order to connect.
While the visuals were often stunning, there were also times the CGI was glaringly obvious and enough to take you out of the moment. The moments that were supposed to be crucial emotional arts also felt paper thin and ineffective, as I didn’t feel that DuVernay did enough to make us care for anyone enough, other than assuming we’re “supposed” to root for them. The film jumps from setpiece to setpiece and never gives you any time to breathe or take it all in properly. At 109 minutes, A Wrinkle in Time feels like it’s missing a few crucial scenes to patch all of it together yet also felt much longer than it really is.
Storm Reid is a fine young actor with potential who handles herself fairly well here, but she didn’t totally wow me. Deric McCabe fares even worse as Charles Wallace, who did nothing but drive me up the wall. He’s a young actor and can surely improve over time but I honestly could hardly tolerate his performance and character, causing the big emotional arc between him and his sister (which a large part of the film’s climax rests on) to fall completely flat. Witherspoon, Kaling, and Winfrey are fine in their respective roles, but Witherspoon goes a bit too far on the deep end for my liking, and it felt like Oprah was just, well, being Oprah. There’s also some misguided appearances from both Zach Galifianakis and Michael Peña, as well as criminally misused performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and André Holland. Chris Pine is terrific whenever he’s on screen, but sadly it’s not nearly enough to make the impact he deserves.
There’s so much to want to like about A Wrinkle in Time; the messages it has for its young viewers are so genuine and good-hearted that it pains me to find them packed in a way that never comes together. It’s ambitious, sure, but its script totally lets it down during its rushed third act that has a bland climax that made me completely check out, not to mention the use of bland pop songs that were too on the nose to serve their intended purpose of inspiration. This is a messy and shockingly incoherent film that I can’t believe came from Ava DuVernay.
It’s even more disappointing when you realize that this is a story that could’ve and should’ve been adorning achievement. But instead, it ended up being a nonsensical experience that failed to bring me into its world of wonderment and amazement. Sadly, A Wrinkle In Time ends up feeling like an underwhelming spectacle best served as a daytime Disney Channel special.