When I saw “Selma” back in 2014, I knew I had seen something special. Not only did it top the list of my favorite films of the year, it kickstarted my love affair with Ava DuVernay, a director as versatile as she is undeniably talented. When it was announced that her next film would be a Disney adaption of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 smash novel “A Wrinkle in Time,” I was a bit confused, but when the first trailer came out, I was stunned. It looked wonderful, diverse, powerful, unique and trippy. To see a woman of color direct a $100 million+ budgeted movie with such a diverse cast and a beautiful message about it, I was so excited to see the film. As time grew closer to release, my anticipation heightened, as I found Disney’s enthusiasm about the film began to dip a bit, especially when putting the film so close to “Black Panther,” a film of similar diverse ceiling-shattering, one that has become one of the biggest films of all time in just a couple of weeks. But knowing Disney, they can market many films at once, so what gave?
Despite all my anticipation and love for Ava, “A Wrinkle in Time” settles at being merely good, when it could’ve been great.
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is a young teenage girl who faces a lot of struggle in her life. Despite being a child prodigy, her life is stunted when her physicist father (Chris Pine), disappeared four years earlier, and she faces intense bullying at school at the hands of Veronica Kiley (Rowan Blanchard). Her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are supportive of her, but can’t seem to break through to her. One night, Charles Wallace invites an ostentatious stranger into their home named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a kind and gentle woman who talks to Charles Wallace as if they’ve known each other for ages. Confused by the event, Charles Wallace also introduces Meg and classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who tell them they can help Meg and Charles Wallace find their father in the universe. Transferring them across dimensions, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin explore different worlds and universes and expand their minds in order to find Meg’s father at the edge of the universe.
There’s so much to like in “A Wrinkle in Time,” but a lot of it is conceptual. It’s always wonderful to see studios hiring such diverse casts and handing control of films over to more women and people of color after so many years of being shut out, but that in itself does not always mean that the film’s made surrounding them will all be masterpieces. True equality comes when films from all people can be amazing, good, and bad, and luckily, “A Wrinkle in Time” falls in the middle somewhere. Still, the messages that “A Wrinkle in Time” gives is a universal, and highly needed message for people of all ages, races, genders, sizes, sexual orientations, etc. The concept of self-love when you’re young is a hard one, but “A Wrinkle in Time” handles it with such an ease and stability that it’s hard not to be touched by the growth you see in Meg during each scene of the film. But these universal themes will definitely reach out to young women of color the most, and for such a massive film to cater to everyone and hit home in different degrees is great, and the whole team executes it perfectly.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is also a beautiful film to look at. It’s very CGI-heavy, but a lot of Disney films with big budgets are, and the amount of color and vibrance that is injected into the film is super fun and refreshing to look at. With the influx of darker, bleaker blockbuster films doing their best to be as dark and dreary as possible, “A Wrinkle in Time,” even with its gaudiness, is a joy to look at. It’s also a rare film that you can watch with your family while also being under the sensation of being on drugs too. This is a trippy, out there movie that utilizes a lot of good things.
Performances in the film are also very strong, with Reid turning in a star-making performance as Meg. She has a power and a vulnerability about her that many people don’t get to bring on their big break. Winfrey, not known as an actress in her first job, also turns in a great performance here as Mrs. Which, a strong and benevolent character that only seeks to liken Winfrey with God even more so than she already is. Witherspoon and Kaling also have a lot of great material here, even if Witherspoon overshadows Kaling 10 times over. Some performances, however, do fall a bit flat, with supporting turns from Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine falling short in the long run, while stronger supporting roles, like Michael Peña’s, not receiving enough time to flesh it out. It’s a push and pull situation that’s mostly successful.
But “A Wrinkle in Time” suffers in its writing, not its directing. Its messages are pure and executed well, but the way in which we get to those messages are often just a little too inconsequential for comfort. Not enough of the film feels like a true gamble of fate, and even when things are at their most dire, I never got the feeling that anyone or anything was in any real danger, but rather it was a vehicle for Meg to discover her own self-love. It all seems like a means to an end rather than a real narrative in a lot of senses. This comes as a bit of a shock when you consider that L’Engle’s novel is highly regarded as a classic of literature. I can attribute a lot of this to adaption fatigue, especially with the novel being such a heavy hitter narratively, it can often feel like it’s only skimming the surface of what it wants to cover.
And with that, the film feels very targeted at children. Yes, people of all ages can watch and enjoy it, but the tones of the film often feel a bit sillier than a normal film, often looking for audience members to tap into their “inner child,” (which pre-screening message from DuVernay told us to do just that), but for a film to not offer up any sort of reprieve into anything a little more serious at times can make the film feel a little off.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is an attractively crafted movie with a lot to like about it, but it also suffers from some serious writing and tonal issues that should’ve been addressed during production. The good far outweighs the bad, with a lot of the bad being a slight pervasive bad, while the good is a much more present good found throughout. It’s an effective message of self-love in young people and the power that family holds on all of us, as well as a showcase for some killer performances. Headed by the steadfast and versatile DuVernay, she does some really ambitious stuff with the story, that often times don’t pay off, but you can’t knock her for trying. Still, a part of me still wishes “A Wrinkle in Time” was better than it is, if only because I know that the potential for it to be great was there, but settled at being merely fine.
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, with Zach Galifianakis, and Chris Pine.
Runtime: 109 minutes
Rating: PG for thematic elements and some peril.
Also available in Disney Digital 3D, RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, IMAX and IMAX 3D.
Disney presents, “A Wrinkle in Time,” a Whitaker Entertainment production, an Ava DuVernay film