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Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon
Walt Disney Studios
 109 Minutes
Directed byAva DuVernay
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon 
A Wrinkle in Time

First, a confession. While I was the right age to read Madeleine l’Engle’s classic fantasy novel, A Wrinkle in Time, when it first appeared, and a science fiction fan to boot, I have never read the book, not then nor any time subsequently. So, I am unable to judge firsthand just what the appeal has been for several generations of readers. I have, however, seen the Disney movie version of the book. Sadly, despite some spectacular visuals and a largely appealing cast, it’s not likely to appeal to even several weeks of filmgoers.


The film version of A Wrinkle in Time centers around Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a shy 13-year-old whose scientist father Alex (Chris Pine) disappeared without a trace four years earlier while trying to discover a new method of interplanetary travel. Meg’s life is generally miserable, as she is the butt of incessant jokes at school, so she finds it hard to believe when her precocious adopted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) introduces her to their new neighbor, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who tells Meg that her father isn’t dead but, rather, has gone deep into the universe by means of a device called a tesseract.


Meg and Charles Wallace, along with a boy from Meg’s school, Calvin (Levi Miller), wind up accompanying Mrs. Whatsit to a distant world filled with animate flowers and other wondrous sights. There, Mrs. Whatsit and her two companions, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), tell Meg that her father has been captured by a malevolent force known as the “It.” The group consults with a character called the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), who tells them that Alex Murry is being held captive on the planet of Camazotz, which is controlled by the It. From there, the It’s power extends to Earth, where the sinister force spreads evil and hatred.


Meg insists on traveling to Camazotz to rescue her father, and she, Charles Wallace, and Calvin avoid various dangers before Charles Wallace is hypnotized and goes off with one of the It’s minions (Michael Pena). Meg follows and is able to rescue her father, but she finds that Charles Wallace is completely under the power of the It. To rescue her brother, she has to go the It’s lair to tangle with It.


Although, as I said, I never read A Wrinkle in Time, from the description of the various planets and beings, including the three Mrs. W’s that Meg encounters, I can guess that children in the 1960’s would have had a lot of fun imagining what everyone and everything looked like (in fact, in the book, Mrs. Which is largely a disembodied voice, not the giant being portrayed for much of the movie). But, as in any fantasy adaptation, a movie gives material form, specifically the personification by a particular actor and the conceptualization by the director, to otherwise unfettered imagery. And, young viewers of a movie in 2018 have plenty of other points of reference against which to compare the visuals in the movie.


To the credit of director Ava DuVernay, the visuals in A Wrinkle in Time are often dazzling, from the dancing flowers portrayed in the clip below to a bizarrely off-kilter suburban block on the planet Camazotz, where nearly identical zombified children repeatedly bounce a ball up and down for “play” in a scene that could have come directly out of The Stepford Wives or Get Out. The producers obviously weren’t shy about spending money here, and the brightly colored images are tremendously eye catching.


But, ultimately, Meg and her friends are no longer tourists but adventurers, and, when Meg tries to rescue her father and brother, the visuals fall flat, in part because this sort of storyline, while probably fresh when A Wrinkle in Time was published over 50 years ago, is all too old hat today. Further, by a bizarre coincidence, the villainous, incorporeal It in Wrinkle evokes memories, at least in adult viewers, of another evil force know as It in last fall’s film version of the Stephen King novel by that name. The notion of an epic battle between good and evil was far more palpable and credible in It than in A Wrinkle in Time. This is the first action movie directed by Ava DuVernay, who was far more effective in Selma. The final showdown between Meg and the It needed a sense of grand scale that is not present here.


The current movie suffers from other problems as well. I am hesitant to place a lot of blame on a child actor, but, in all honesty, young Deric McCabe (who was all of eight years old when production began on A Wrinkle in Time) simply is not a good enough actor to carry a difficult role in a major production. Again, the fault here has to lie with the director, as the child’s emotional display in scene after scene is just wrong. He comes across as a child excited to remember his lines rather than a possessed, all-knowing, temporarily evil creature. A Wrinkle in Time has some other unfortunate casting choices as well, especially Zach Galifianakis as a character whose only purpose seems to be to stand on one leg in a goofy yoga pose in a misbegotten effort to generate laughs.


Where DuVernay and the movie excel is in depicting the human element, especially the relationship between Meg and her parents. The film’s message of young female self-empowerment, largely through acceptance of oneself, flaws and all, comes through strongly, thanks to a solid performance by a very steady Storm Reid. And the emotions that are present at the inevitable family reunion are genuine and not forced. A Wrinkle in Time has an ending that seems more at home in a family drama than a large-scale fantasy.


Buried inside A Wrinkle in Time is a warm, touching movie about a young girl overcoming her self-conscious insecurities and maturing, which helps bring her family together. Unfortunately, that film is surrounded by a typical summer tentpole film (even though it’s still the month of March) about a shapeless creature called the It which has the power to lay waste to worlds. It would take a better director than Ava DuVernay to make those two movies mesh, so the audience never feels fully at ease in the fantasy, as spectacular as some of the images are. The result is an interesting near miss. A Wrinkle in Time simply needed some more time to get the wrinkles out.

In this scene, Storm Reid talks to flowers on an alien planet.

Read other reviews of A Wrinkle in Time: 

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) on IMDb