L'Engle's 1962 children's book, about a misfit girl who ventures through space to rescue her father from an evil force, has captivated generations of readers despite making hardly a lick of sense. Now, the story comes to life in DuVernay's adaptation. Visionary physicist Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) disappeared four years ago, leaving his smart, sullen tween daughter, Meg (Storm Reid), and uncanny genius young son, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), behind with his bewildered physicist wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
The three big names here do their best with sometimes impossibly stilted material - Witherspoon, as the chatty Mrs. Whatsit, is the standout. Who and Mrs. Which - not the divine creatures from another dimension part so much as their role as guardians and caretakers of vulnerable children part.
"It wasn't a likely marriage but when you have a brother inside, Tendo Nagenda, who said "I can see this happening" and he imagined what it could be before I imagined what it could be", DuVernay said of Disney's executive vice president of production during her acceptance speech for the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) Innovator Award in February.
Storm Reid as Meg Murray in "A Wrinkle in Time". Her Meg carries herself like someone feeling tentative about her own experience - her movements are uncertain, her face guarded, her voice timid - and yet she's impossible to ignore, thanks to Reid's luminous presence.
A Wrinkle in Time is more admirable when taken piecemeal rather than as a total success. Had I seen Meg in action when I was 10 or so, I would have thought that the sky was the limit (and maybe even that math was cool), and that's more than enough reason to take your kids to see A Wrinkle in Time right there. I just learned that I could be the light for people in this world. But DuVernay, along with cinematographer Tobias Schliessler and editor Spencer Averick, aim for something unique in the framing and cutting of many sequences and shots. That's exactly what "Wrinkle" is about, and it never hides or nuances that message.
Meg is a bright kid, a chip off her scientist parents block, but Reid lends poignancy to her nerdiness. Even worse, the relationship between Calvin and Meg is uncomfortably romantic and distracting. The two also share a very sweet romantic subplot that works exclusively on the charm of Reid and Miller's dynamic. Charles Wallace is borderline insufferable as a character (though actor Deric McCabe's performance gets more fun in the second half of the film). But landing the dream role seemed almost impossible.
As for Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs.
But even A Wrinkle in Time's flaws are kind of endearing, particularly since they mostly come down to this movie being too ambitious and too honest and too odd. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who is the most underused of the three beings. Meg is all the better as a character because she's multi-layered and full of both uncertainty and stubbornness, like most teenage girls-she's clever, vulnerable, furious, anxious about her appearance, hard-headed, and impulsive. For every honest bit of character development, you have stilted dialogue that falls flat. That DuVernay uses her latest film to tell little girls that their natural hair is good and pretty is the kind of touch we'd expect from the activist filmmaker. Further, the movie's themes of self-identity and the importance of family are important, but hammered home with little subtly. Ms. Mbatha-Raw and Mr. Pena give the best efforts with limited screen time, and Mindy Kaling has the two or three amusing lines of the entire A Wrinkle in Time.
This is a movie made for kids to understand, for kids to marvel at, and for kids to learn how to be a warrior for good from. "I feel like we are breaking barriers, slowly but surely, but there needs to be more representation".
"A Wrinkle In Time" possesses too much goodness to really hate, but there's no doubt it ultimately flatters to deceive. To bring L'Engle's mix of science fiction, Christian allegory and whimsical fantasy to the screen, Walt Disney Studios tapped Ava DuVernay, whose last film was the civil rights drama "Selma". She has to go on a trip around the universe to figure that out. Calvin remains too blandly "nice" to be an interesting character but fills the bill as eye candy for younger teen girls, while Charles Wallace is, by the film's modest standards, something of a hoot as the preternaturally sharpest kid in the neighborhood, be it on Earth or elsewhere. A Wrinkle in Time is set to debut in theaters on March 9, 2018.
Rated: PG for thematic elements and some peril.