“You certainly don’t understand the importance of balance.”
I’ll say this for A Wrinkle in Time – the film is utterly fearless. And still, like the bullied kid at the summer watering hole, the movie seems forced onto the high dive to be laughed at and ridiculed all alone. But then something happens inside. A wave of bravery breaks and the ladder is quickly climbed, the board confidently walked before thundering down with a cannonball. The thing is though, while self-assured and possessed by positivity, the youngster somehow forgot that they don’t know how to swim. A Wrinkle in Time suffers the same fate. Its leap is inspiring for all to watch until it’s followed by a massive splash upon entry, arms flailing and crying out for help. My admiration for Disney’s narratively negligent and ambitiously uplifting picture quickly swung from an optimistic openness towards a headscratching, “what in the actual hell were you thinking?” This big and bold mess doesn’t provide an answer to that quandry, nor does it to any of the empty questions it insists on raising along the way.
With shockingly little insight into this world or the most basic machinations of a well-greased plot, A Wrinkle in Time’s initial refusal to be understood almost makes a bit of backwards sense. Meg Murray (Storm Reid) gets picked on, has to deal with her outspoken and prodigious little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), copes with the loss of their missing father Dr. Murray (Chris Pine), and acts with caution towards classmate Calvin’s (Levi Miller) advances. As is the case for most kids, Meg feels completely outside herself. She can’t control what happens, how things hit her emotionally, and what should be small becomes exaggerated. Early on in A Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s precocious and overwhelming self-doubt inject themselves into the film itself, allowing what’s broken in the script – ie. how does everyone know Dr. Murray has been MIA for 4 years? Why do they care? And why do they all gossip about his motives? – to make a tiny bit of sense in her own wayward context. As such, my issue lies less with this happy accident than it does the missed opportunity for intentional exploration of theme and character development.
Rarely do I compare books to their on-screen offspring because the mediums are such different experiences. Here though, the creative changes don’t elevate Madeleine L’Engle’s spotty 1962 story; they’re nearly all huge, spectacular, vain additions or dense detractions. It’s hard to understand much of the beginning, in part due to Meg’s awkward and unsure 13-year-old self, but mostly because the adaptation is so incredibly thin. Take the trio of divine teachers for example. Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) is the Clarence Oddbody of the bunch, so unaware and anxious. Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) speaks in pretentious quotes because she’s transcended language. Mrs. Which (Ophrah Winfrey) projects herself as a mountain. They’re goddesses of good without a shred of backstory, because in the book, these celestial beings are defined by religious principles, which is wholeheartedly missing from the film altogether. God vs. Satan has been replaced by Light vs. Dark, and although the like-minded narratives mirror the same humanist theme, the secular approach strips away the very foundation of the story itself. Love and hate are powerful entities in their own right, yet what’s missing from A Wrinkle in Time aren’t emotions, but an outlet from which they can be sourced, and that we can likewise plug ourselves into.
The book A Wrinkle in Time isn’t just another hero’s journey; it’s a far-reaching, galactic endeavor meant to join humanity together and to imbue its faith based believers with a stronger sense of hope and a recurring reassurance in an almighty savior. This film offers up no such deeper meaning. While visually resplendent, and just as macerated by guady coloring and cartoonish CGI, the picture doesn’t properly function simply based on its look. Packaged like a family-friendly PG take on Interstellar and boasting the soulless heart of those wacky Alice in Wonderland remakes, A Wrinkle in Time prioritizes on-the-nose messages instead of full-bodied experiences. Yes, it’s rewarding to see a young African-American woman take charge of her own story. Yes, it’s powerful to see her use intelligence and empathy as non-deadly weapons. Yes, love ultimately does win in the face of hate. These are important truths. Unfortunately, the messages themselves picket and interrupt the very film they’re trying to use as a vessel of righteous discourse. I loved what A Wrinkle in Time had to say, and its protests need to be heard, but I can’t help but believe that an additional 15-20 minutes could have ammended all the absent thought that’s been overpowered by unrestrained imagination. It’s basically Tomorrowland with a few great scenes and less dazzling world-building.
Script issues aside – and trust me, there are plenty – the facet I found most curious was the lackluster direction from well-known auteur Ava DuVernay. She doesn’t get much from the kids of her cast (Miller is robotic, McCabe barks like a chew toy, and Reid – a young woman with great instinct and dramatic promise – is left toeing a line of doubt for 90+ minutes), all while the the adults hardly do any better (Oprah’s great presence is never unleashed, Witherspoon’s character is a one-note jaunt, Kaling basically plagiarizes and smiles and jogs). The only fully formed and impactful performance comes from Chris Pine, a drastically improved actor who can soar or sail on a whim. DuVernay rarely draws real emotions from her cast, though. So why does this masterful director shoot such an insanely lavish landscape as if it were a personal conversation, forcing low-angles and unbalanced two-shots and the most excessive use of close-ups that I’ve ever seen in a film this size? It’s disorrienting, jarring, and invades the space that we’re meant to inhabit as our own, making me think that despite her best efforts, Ava DuVernay’s grounded approach might not have been the best choice to direct a film that seems best suited for the outrageous Terry Gilliam (although, it’s one he’d never make either). Nevertheless, A Wrinkle in Time ticks and tolls, but would have benefitted from the consistency of a reliable pacemaker rather than the occasional lightning storm from a misplaced EKG.
“It’s far from amazing.”
Rating: 2 out of 5