Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG
I, like most people who were once children, have definitely read Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, really enjoyed it, and remember almost nothing about it. So you don't have to take my review with a grain of salt. I won't call this film a bastardization of the book. It hasn't ruined my childhood. Because, for all I know, this is the most faithful adaptation ever conceived. I literally don't remember.
I recall there being a character named Charles Wallace, and there's one of those in the movie, so it passes the test.
So, here's the plot of A Wrinkle in Time, which you probably don't remember even if you saw the movie today: young girl Meg (Storm Reid) is still wracked with grief over the disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine) four years ago. He disappeared right after adopting her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). And her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) doesn't do all that much, but you can't just not mention Gugu Mbatha-Raw if she's in a movie.
Charles Wallace introduces Meg to three weird mystical women named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a scatterbrained woman who doesn't appreciate Meg's distrust and closed-off emotions, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who only speaks in literary quotes, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who seems to be the ringleader and is hilariously 30 feet tall for the first third of the movie. Who these women are married to, I'll never know. Anyway, they know how to bend time and space to travel thousands of light years in a split second, and in order to rescue their dad, who is being held captive by an evil force spreading darkness throughout the universe, the kids must team up with the women and their random useless neighbor Calvin (Levi Miller) to go on a cross-universe adventure.
At the very least, I'm glad this movie finally allowed Oprah to show us her true form.
A Wrinkle in Time is whimsical as f**k, and that's actually one of its rawest strengths. Director Ava DuVernay (whose previous works are well-respected but certainly in no way implied that this is the type of movie she had the capacity to make) definitely has a vision and is pursuing it full-bore. The costuming is like watching a full season of RuPaul's Drag Race condensed into 100 minutes, blasting a glitter cannon into your face every six minutes or so. There is no moderation in the design elements of Wrinkle in Time whatsoever, and between the fact that Oprah's bejeweled eyebrows change between every scene, the glorious, intricate hairpieces they slam onto Mindy Kalings scalp, and the rumpled pillowcase Reese Witherspoon seems to be dressed in, it's a sumptuous visual feast that pulses with energy.
Kids will certainly relate to this film, because that energy is exactly as empty and ephemeral as the sugar rush they'll be getting from their fistfuls of Skittles they got at the concession stand. A Wrinkle in Time jams you through its plot with a total lack of focus and broad, brittle dialogue meant to force you down the narrative track like bumpers on a bowling lane. Even though the world they inhabit is a free-flowing mass of sparkly fabrics, the characters and their arcs are stilted and strange, and the script frequently dips into being actively unbearable (the theme of the film is presented via a cootie catcher, for one thing, but this high-fantasy movie also relies on a radio news report for important exposition, which is the laziest way to do just about anything).
The plotting is equally messy, which to be fair is probably due to the highly metaphysical, internal nature of the original book, but still. The third act just turns into a video game where every rule we've seen established is instantly broken and most of the conflicts are converted into music videos for one of the many atrocious pop songs that are sticking out of the movie like razor blades in the face of a Hellraiser Cenobite.
Mindy's face when she read the script for the first time.
Luckily, the movie doesn't really rely on its script to carry things. Unluckily, it mostly just relies on kids going "whoooooooaaaaa," at a big heap of CGI nonsense flying around. For as much personality as the Misses bring to the film, the worlds they visit are too-similar, slickly designed landscapes so smooth and digital that your eye slides right off them.
The acting is fine at least. Charles Wallace is strangely wiggly in his physicality when push comes to shove, but let's not hang around insulting children. Kaling and Winfrey are absolutely satisfying, even if they don't push themselves particularly hard, and Witherspoon certainly gets across the airy inhumanity of her character, though her performance slips into manic a little too often for my liking.
Although A Wrinkle in Time is mostly forgettable, it's anything but anonymous. Whatever the movie's faults are, they are entirely its own, and to that point, if you're in the right mood some of those faults can be strengths (funnily enough, that idea is actually a major plot point). I for one was captivated by the completely strange presentation of Meg's school bully, who hangs out of her window at a 45 degree angle to spy on her at home. And the way Levi Miller exits a doorframe, milking it for every ounce of emotional weight it's worth and then some, squeezing out every last drop of screen time he can possibly glean, is a fascinating trainwreck of a scene.
All in all, I didn't hate it, but A Wrinkle in Time is a huge, flabby disappointment. That's the way these things go sometimes.
TL;DR: A Wrinkle in Time is ambitious, but entirely too messy and bland to be satisfying.
Word Count: 987