A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Family | Fantasy
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine


Following the discovery of a new form of space travel as well as Meg’s father’s disappearance, she, her brother, and her friend must join three magical beings – Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which – to travel across the universe to rescue him from a terrible evil.

One review

  • (RATING: ☆☆ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: C-


    IN BRIEF: A sci-fi fantasy that is metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and one of the year’s most disappointing movies.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Eons ago, some 50 years if I time travel or “tesser” back to my carefree youth, I fondly remember my high school’s reading list, books that I was forced to experience from wary freshman to not-so-savvy senior. The list was a potpourri of classic literature that explored the early classics such as Silas Marner, Ivanhoe (snore), and The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe and books labeled modern classics including The Red Badge of Courage, Lord of the Flies (loved it!), The Diary of Anne Frank, Of Mice and Men, and my favorite novel by far, To Kill A Mockingbird. Plays were also part of this advanced curriculum: Our Town, Inherit the Wind (I had the part of Matthew Brady in our read-aloud session and acted with such verve that I was approached to join the Drama Club, which I humbly declined.), The Crucible, and a dual paperback of Romeo and Juliet / West Side Story (with musical selections from the Bernstein musical played at the beginning of each of our English classes as background motivation by our possibly gay but popular English teacher). Our school district was so edgy and liberal by today’s standards that it had both A Separate Piece and The Catcher in the Rye as part of our education (with signed parent permission slip only). Also, the realm of sci-fi was not ignored either, with 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 as major candidates for discussion…and, oh yes, so was a little book called A Wrinkle in Time.

    As a goofy teenager, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was heady stuff back then, a book that I found difficult to understand, let alone, enjoy. It was all metaphysical mumbo-jumbo in those late turbulent 60’s and Ava DuVernay’s updated film adaptation can be described the same way today. It is a film of good intentions gone badly.

    The film is ill-conceived from the start. (How anyone looking at the kitschy design couldd not have seen the many missteps is beyond me and the universe!) Words fail to accurately explain the many flaws, but try I must.

    But first, a short plot summary for those not familiar with the novel: Meg Murry, her brother, Charles Wallace, and a friend meet some time traveling matrons named Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who. (Who’s on first?…I dunno!) They “tesser” to different worlds to find Meg’s missing physicist father, who may have discovered the meaning of life, as they battle an evil force named The It (No, not that supernatural devious clown, although the circus of misfits has fully arrived).

    The director has diversity and woman’s empowerment seemingly the major emphasis throughout this time-traveling saga, more blatantly on display than in most films. Score some points for that issue. But whereas, the recent Black Panther movie had the same idea and melded it successfully into its narrative, this heavy-handed version makes advancement for racial quotas in the most obvious of ways, primarily in its casting choices and stereotyping of some characters. Subtract points for the lack of logic and pure entertainment value. This film is a confusing dumbing-down of its source material.(In Ms. L’Engle’s defense, many of her ideas of parallel dimensions, light vs. dark forces, black smoke monsters, and such were innovative and ground-breaking at the time, although now they are commonplace and contrived due to many later reincarnations from other sci-fi sources.) In fact, when the film stays earthbound, it oddly has more impact than its many treks to supernatural destinations.

    Storm Reid is our young heroine and the actress holds her own and creates a believable girl trying to cope with a new world order. Her casting is one of the few pleasures in this movie. Levi Miller has that teen idol look but is a bit bland as Meg’s friend, Calvin, who seems to have a hair fetish through the movie. In smaller roles, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw register very well as the helpless and loving parents.

    Perhaps one of Ms. DuVernay’s biggest hurdle was her miscasting of young Deric McCabe as Meg’s gifted brother. He is just physically wrong for this role. As directed, the young actor overacts shamelessly and is annoyingly precocious. Mr. McCabe’s resemblance to a small but mighty Hervé Villechaize does not help matters either. (No rescue here, the plane never arrives!) When called on to be a menacing force of nature, his size and high-pitched line delivery has the completely opposite reaction, more bratty hissy-fit than life-threatening peril. This child actor may have talent, but this role does not show off that potential at all.

    Yet some of the other adult performers are just surprisingly awful, especially the three fairy godmother types played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and the omnipotent Oprah “You get a car” Winfrey. It’s hard to determine just who, whatsit, or especially “why” these actresses interpret their roles with a fuzzy cartoonish smugness and total lack of gravitas. They never create an iota of a believable character or transcend their real life personas. It’s just dress-up time. Other unusual suspects are: Zach Galifianakis, once again hamming it up to excess as a yoga guru called The Happy Medium and Michael Pena plays Red briefly, a wise exit.

    Ms. DuVernay’s vision becomes strained in this re-imagining and the technical CGI have a general artificial quality which subverts the story. It is a rarity in today’s filmmaking that such a big budgeted blockbuster from the Disney Studio looks so cheap and be so bereft of imagination and visual style. Blame the artisans involved, the worst offender being costume designer Paco Delgado’s outrageous drag queen outfits, the bejeweled make-up, and Disney’s fairy-tale over-the-top hair design. (Perhaps this look would have worked as a more theatrical musical, A Wizard of Oz updated tale. As it stands, it just looks foolish and laughable.) In fact, evolving hair styles seems to be the deciding factor for character development, since it surely isn’t the muddled screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell. It’s more like a skeletal outline of a series of kiddie adventures as the characters space hop to different planets and different obstacles than a complex story of universal adult themes. The dialogue is just a series of positive pep talks and self-help platitudes that grow tiresome very fast (“Be a warrior!”…Celebrate your flaws!”…” Don’t give up hope!”…“You know, you have great hair!”).

    A bombastic music score by Ramin Djawadi telegraphs the emotion one is suppose to feel but doesn’t. Most of Naomi Sholan’s production design and especially Elizabeth Keenan’s unimaginative set decoration looks like a college art design project using painted styrofoam as its main element, with the prize going to best float. Only Tobias Schliesser’s photography has some merit.

    Yes, there are a few effective scenes that are completely satisfying. After all, the director is a powerful force. Just see her previous two films, the superb Selma and the important documentary, 13, and it is proof of her talents. However, in this film, she loses control of her story with trite images (Orion’s gaudy cavern, a bedazzled bigger-than-life Oprah, and those ugly costumes with added colored lip gloss, a dated 50’s beach scene that seems out of place with all the other contemporary touches) mixed with strong ones (the ripple effect prior to transporting, an eerie beige Stepford suburbia, a dangerous race in a dark forest).

    This modern reboot of A Wrinkle in Time has many kinks to iron out. Sadly, it is a major disappointment. Hopefully, Ms. DuVerney and crew will learn from their failures and “tesser” onto other more worthwhile projects. This one deserves to be lost in its own parallel universe.

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    ANY COMMENTS: Please contact me at: jadepietro@rcn.com

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