Film Review: “A Wrinkle in Time”

While “A Wrinkle in Time” introduces an intricate plot line and new worlds, the film’s overemphasis on artistry prevents the story from being fully realized.

Many kids have fallen in love with Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” a classic coming-of-age story woven into a grand adventure through space. It was, and still is, a novel that challenges readers’ imaginations and provokes questions about how we see ourselves and are seen by others. Although the book is filled with complex symbolism, the plot is never lost in the multitude of double entendres. This is where the movie falters. Despite A-list casting, with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, and extravagant special effects, the film’s underdeveloped characters and vague plot explanations fail to capture the audience’s attention.

The story centers around Meg Murry (Storm Reid), an academically gifted middle schooler distraught over her father, Alex Murry’s (Chris Pine) disappearance four years prior. Through flashbacks and conversations between her teachers, it is established that Meg was a bright, enthusiastic child before her father’s unexplained departure; however, when we see her, Meg is an insecure, angry young lady who is bullied by the popular girls at school. Her adopted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is a child genius whose age is ambiguous, although based on the flashbacks he should be around six. It’s shown that Charles Wallace is highly intuitive about Meg’s emotions as well as the nature and intentions of the many celestial beings they later encounter during their travels. The extent of his abilities, however, is neither explored nor explained.

Both children believe their father is alive and will someday return to them. Their assumptions are confirmed when three mysterious women, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) arrive at their house and tell them that their father is in great danger and has called to them for help. Thus, their interplanetary journey begins, accompanied by one of Meg’s classmates, Calvin (Levi Miller), who randomly appears as the siblings set off on their journey with the vague explanation that he felt compelled to go to their location.

The interplanetary travel is achieved through tessering –– the same method Alex Murry accidently accomplished on the night he disappeared –– which is derived from the word tesseract and explained adeptly by the story’s title. In other words, rather than travel linearly, the group travels by means of skirting through different dimensions, or wrinkles, in time. Each planet is an exploration of modern CGI, with one particularly nonsensical sequence where Mrs. Whatsit turns into a giant flying cabbage leaf and takes the children on a magic carpet ride across her planet, slowing down an already sluggish plot. Unfortunately, neither the graphics nor the score were mesmerizing enough to distract from the plot holes.

The movie lacks both a central villain and the sense of foreboding present in the books. It’s pretty obvious that The Man with the Red Eyes (Michael Peña) is the film’s intended villain, however the source of his power and his planet’s malevolence is presented so briefly that viewers can only begin to understand the implications of “the darkness” that he controls and how to fight it.

Although the movie made great strides in the avenue of diversity, the star-studded adult cast was largely under-utilized, especially Oprah’s and Kaling’s characters. Reid portrays her reserved, stony character convincingly, however McCabe’s portrayal of Charles Wallace –– one of the book’s most powerful characters –– is unconvincing. Perhaps the role demanded too much of the young actor, but the movie’s climax, which rests largely on his shoulders, is very difficult to take seriously. The gravity of the situation, already precariously established, is lost by end of the scene. Miller’s character is hardly developed and his gift for diplomacy is barely used, making his original purpose –– except as a possible pseudo-romantic lead –– questionable.

Directed by Ava DuVernay, this movie is the second attempt at a film adaptation of the book, the first of which was released in 2003. At the time, L’Engle said that she “expected [the movie] to be bad and it was.” Although she is not alive to see this version of her beloved tale, one wonders if she would have the same reaction. Even with the technological advances made since the first attempt, this adaption fails to deliver a coherent story that captures the magic and depth of its inspiration.

Grade: C+
Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Michael Peña
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Rated: PG

Image Courtesy of Disney