Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
HOMER: Okay, don't panic. Remember the advice your father gave you on your wedding day.
GRANDPA: If you ever travel back in time, don't step on anything, because even the tiniest change can alter the future in ways you can't imagine.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Teenager runs away from home for a good reason, for once.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2.5 Abbotts and Costellos out of 5.
Tagline: "Be a warrior."
Better Tagline: "YOU get a tesseract! And YOU get a tesseract!"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's been four years since Meg's (Storm Reid) physicist father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) split and/or disappeared, and in the interim she's grown into a troubled adolescent. While mom Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is doing her best with Meg and younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her own science career. Meg is understandably wary when Charle Wallace (who goes by both names at all times, which is never annoying) introduces him to three weird ladies; Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who turn out to be supernatural beings who want to help her find her lost dad.
"Critical" Analysis: Director Ava DuVernay gave a videotaped introduction in front of advance screenings for A Wrinkle in Time in which she described the desire to make something uplifting and unifying following her previous films Selma and 13th. Her adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic children's story certainly is that, though the story itself — groundbreaking upon its 1962 release — doesn't quite carry its own weight.
DuVernay and company clearly want A Wrinkle in Time to feel larger than life, as befits a tale about an epic voyage through time and space. The three Mrs. "W"s speak solemnly of the struggle between light and darkness, of being true to oneself, and Meg's role in the struggle, but too often the movie is reminiscent of the first Harry Potter, with the characters spending huge amounts of screen time gaping at the wonders around them instead of actually doing anything.
That said, not much about the worlds Meg and company visit are very memorable. Uriel, the first planet they visit, is standard M-class fare that looks a lot like the Reach in Halo (only with talking flowers instead of the Covenant). Meanwhile Camazotz, home of the nefarious IT, is mostly idyllic suburbia, until it isn't. 21st century moviegoing audiences are well past the point when digitally rendered landscapes impress them, and with few exceptions (Happy Medium's planet), it doesn't feel like a lot of effort was put into bringing L'Engle's creations to life.
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Maybe that's because much of what the book described was unfilmable (there's no Aunt Beast, for example), and maybe the plot comes across as shopworn because L'Engle's tale inspired so much of what we've already seen in previous decades. Where DuVernay and writer Jennifer (Frozen) Lee do succeed is in the larger message that Meg (and, by default, the audience) is deserving of love and respect.
Storm Reid, whom you'll possibly remember from 12 Years A Slave, ably conveys the self-loathing and insecurity of early adolescence (as well as the anger over losing her father), and when she inevitably turns these so-called "faults" into strengths, the result is captivating. Reid, barely a teenager herself, brings undeniable sincerity and courage to her portrayal of Meg. After all, it's a brave soul who volunteers to traipse off into another dimension with what looks like a trio of contestants from RuPaul's Drag Race.
The rest of the cast are more uneven. Witherspoon's Mrs. Whatsit gets the best lines, while Deric McCable switches between annoyingly insufferable to unconvincingly threatening. Oprah and Mindy Kaling nod knowingly in between uttering TED Talk like pronoucements (or, in Mrs. Who's case, other people's quotes), while Gugu Mbatha-Raw does the best she can as a grieving wife/concerned mother. Loony dad Chris Pine also pretty much destroys any fatherly cred with an inexplicable third act decision.
L'Engle's Christian themes are largely absent here (Jesus and Buddha are swapped out for Einstein and Gandhi and others in Mrs. Which's list of warriors fighting the darkness), with Jennifer Lee's script focusing instead on Meg's transformation from sullen teen to warrior. The transformation is convincing, and maybe that and Reid's performance are enough to forgive the movie's other flaws. Because A Wrinkle in Time's impact comes less from the tale it tells than the message it imparts.