Film Review – A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time
What A Wrinkle in Time (2018) gets right is understanding the intelligence, strength, and resiliency of children. They are far keener to the world around them as some would suspect, and aware of the circumstances they are placed into. Kids are often neglected as too naïve, too inexperienced. But sometimes there are those whose capability to persevere grows to overcome the obstacles they face. Some of the best fantasy films involve children like this – Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Charlie in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971), or Chihiro in Spirited Away (2001). They all share the same qualities, and the protagonist here has it as well.
What director Ava DuVernay and writers Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell accomplish – as opposed to your run-of-the-mill fantasy – is to take the material completely sincerely. Adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, this is not a throwaway story meant to distract your kids for a couple of hours. This is an honest to goodness parable about finding inner strength, about kindness in the face of evil, and embracing oneself in the midst of conformity. Sure, some of those themes can sound a little hokey, but in the hands DuVernay – who has quickly risen the ranks of our top filmmakers – there is a genuine and heartfelt tone that alleviates the schmaltz. The narrative never falls into contrived melodrama; there is truth here that encourages families to talk about what they saw.
Meg (Storm Reid) is a young girl going through a crisis. Her scientist father (Chris Pine) disappeared years ago while trying to solve the mystery of space travel. Since then, Meg has become a person simply going through the motions of life. Bullies pick on her at school, and when she physically retaliates she gets sent to the principal’s office. She’s embarrassed (and maybe intimated) by the intellect of her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Although her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries her best to maintain stability in the household, Meg never shakes the feeling that her life has been put on hold ever since her father went missing.
Things take a dramatic turn when Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) are visited by three…..Beings? Spirits? Witches? They are Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) who speaks in nothing but quotations, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) who constantly wonders if Meg is special, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) who seems to be the leader of the three. The beings appear before the kids with an opportunity: the chance to travel the universe to find Meg’s father. Before Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin can catch their bearings, they are swept away in an intergalactic journey, where they visit different planets and meet all kinds of strange creatures, all the while trying to trace where Meg’s father went.
The further A Wrinkle in Time delves into the fantastic, the better it got. The bits about Meg’s parents being scientists, her brother having a near genius mind, and the idea of “folding” space in order to instantly travel the cosmos fall flat. I’m not sure if that’s due to the filmmaking or the source material. Science belongs in the real world, not in a fantasy. Do we ever wonder why Dorothy’s ruby slippers were the key to getting home? Do we really need to know how Willy Wonka had an army of little orange people running his factory? The same applies here. Luckily, as DuVernay leads us further down Meg’s story, the less concerned we are about the science behind what we see and more about the feeling.
Each place the kids travel to displays a colorful aesthetic. Half the joy of seeing this is because of the textures: the costumes, the make up, and production design are all a sight to behold. One planet as Meg communicating with plants that look like candy corn brought to life. Another has them wandering on top of a high precipice, needing to balance on rocks to prevent themselves from falling. And in yet another they find themselves at a beach location, where the bright sunshine and happy faces hide a secret menace underneath. As the kids continue to search for Meg’s father, they come to learn of “The It,” a dark and malevolent force that can take the form of just about anything, and if the kids aren’t smart or careful they may fall into The It’s trap.
Storm Reid is wonderful in the lead role. Her character requires her to play various emotions, and Reid tackles each incredibly well. Meg starts off as hardened and adrift, but as her arc develops we see hope start to bubble inside of her. She finds a power she may not have realized she had, and her love for her father fuels her determination. Reid’s performance amplifies the themes because she can carry the emotional weight like a seasoned pro. She can make us laugh or cry, but never does it under false pretenses.
Sure, there are things about A Wrinkle In Time that I could nitpick. The abundant use of CGI once again covers everything with a sheen of artificiality. Some of the songs choices are too obvious, hammering down the messages with a lack of subtlety. But honestly, who cares about all of that? DuVernay and her team have made a picture that is entertaining and thrilling, while also being about something important. Not many others can say the same thing.