The choices Ava DuVernay makes in her heart-on-its-sleeve adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's beloved science fiction adventure novel might seem antithetical to the traditional big-budget adventure tale. Early in the film, she employs the verite techniques she honed in low-budget indies — intimate, handheld cameras, lingering on a person's face before cutting to two hands touching. DuVernay is most concerned with people. The moments of realism prove crucial: The adaptation must compress hundreds of pages into an hour and 49 minutes, sending Meg (Storm Reid), her little adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her new friend Calvin (Levi Miller) on a technicolor search-and-rescue mission through time to find her missing father.
Helping the children along the way are three near-divine beings of light, the astral traveling Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who are adorned in any number of multicolored, puffy, flowy, metallic, knit, quilted and woven gowns. As always when she takes an acting role, Winfrey reminds us that she's not just a brand name. Jennifer Lee's script gives her a pep talk about fighting against the darkness that you may need on repeat these days. But who would have thought in a film with this cast that the most cathartic moment would come from Zach Galifianakis? Reid, while a little unsteady in scenes where she must play joyful, nails the darker emotions. Meg, who is mixed-race, wears her black hair curly. That DuVernay uses her latest film to tell little girls that their natural hair is good and pretty is the kind of touch we'd expect from the activist filmmaker. That she does it in a tentpole blockbuster is revolutionary.