Madeline L’Engle’s science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time has been enchanting young readers since its initial publication in 1962. After over 50 years of popularity, A Wrinkle in Time is making its way to the big screen in an adaptation directed by Selma director Ava DuVernay with big special effects and an all-star cast. Expectations have been high for DuVernay’s take on L’Engle’s novel. Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t make the leap to the big screen with any sense of captivating wonder. Instead it’s a film that never finds a flow to its wondrous excursions through time and space into other dimensions. With all the talent in front of and behind the camera, there’s no way to avoid the reality that A Wrinkle in Time is a notable disappointment.
For four years, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has lived without her father. Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) was a prominent NASA scientist working alongside his wife Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) before vanishing without a trace, leaving Meg without a father and Kate without a husband to help raise their adopted son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). We’re told by teachers and others that Meg is a troubled soul, though we’re not really presented with much evidence of that outside of being told that repeatedly. Meg is bullied at school by a clique of mean girls and a retaliatory blow against one of her tormenters is really the only presentation of her youthful angst. One evening, thanks to the scientific research of young Charles Wallace, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) appears at the Murry home and this being from another plane of existence along with her cohorts Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) recruits the two Murry children along with Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to find the missing father in a far off planet, using their minds to “tesser” across the dimensions.
On the planet Uriel, Meg and company are amidst a wondrous world oozing in garish CGI as a 50-foot Oprah looks down upon them. Meanwhile, Mrs. Whatsit seeks the whereabouts of Meg’s father from some gossipy flowers. Then Mrs. Whatsit transforms into a giant flying piece of lettuce carrying the children over the majestic computer generated landscapes. It’s a pointless scene that fails to bring any sense of wonder and only finds its purpose at the end when everyone encounters The It, a black amorphous blob of evil that is the film’s villain. Eventually, after a bit of wandering about, the kids and their three mystical guides consult The Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) for help in finding the missing father. What should be an efficient setup takes a majority of the film’s running time and fails to bring much depth to the characters its able to retain its focus on, which are few.
All of this takes us to the bizarre planet of Camazotz, a place ruled by the evil of The It and where nothing is quite as it seems. Finally, DuVernay’s film finds some distinctive personality but it’s far too little far too late. Here, for the most part, A Wrinkle in Time lives up to its potential with some visually wild and unsettling moments. While the film does at least begin to deliver with its impressive design, it’s hard to get wrapped in the story as the characters are really just fighting some anonymous blob of evil. A dark being without shape or motivation isn’t a formidable opponent for the characters and creates a movie unable to craft any tension when its heroes struggle.
As a whole, it’s hard to get over just how often A Wrinkle in Time is at odds with itself. None of the trio of young actors at the center of the film are able to create much of a connection with their characters, and one of them provides one of the most grating child performances of recent memory. You can’t fault these enthusiastic young kids when DuVernay’s direction of Jennifer Lee’s script is unable to provide much depth to these children beyond what others are able to verbalize about them. At the end, when Meg is supposed to have her heroic moment of realization, there’s no emotional payoff to what should be a moment of triumph and it’s entirely because the film struggles mightily in establishing its characters.
Aside from a television movie in 2003, A Wrinkle in Time hasn’t made its way to the screen in over 50 years of its existence, and Ava DuVernay’s film inadvertently makes the case that it’s just not a filmable story. Perhaps children will wind up loving the film because the characters are so ill-defined they can stand as a cipher for whatever child is viewing it. What was intended to be a towering epic of majestic wonder becomes a messy and flat sci-fi fantasy to behold punctuated by clunky needle drops that it’s amazing that an advertisement proclaiming “SOUNDTRACK NOW AVAILABLE ON HOLLYWOOD RECORDS” doesn’t occupy the entire frame. Ava DuVernay is a vital voice in cinema despite this notable misfire, and I firmly believe that her talents just didn’t line up with the material in this case. It happens even the best. A Wrinkle in Time is simply a movie that doesn’t work. It’s not a disaster. It’s not a film worthy of any ire. It’s an underwhelming fantasy that fades from memory in no time at all.
A Wrinkle in Time
- Overall Score
A science fiction fantasy that fails to connect, A Wrinkle in Time features plenty of CGI wonders but its inability to craft depth in its characters prevents the film from generating an emotional connection when it matters most.