A Wrinkle in Time is a Bold, Empathetic Vision—and a Mess

Author: Cameron Fairchild

Stormy Reid in A Wrinkle in Time (2018).
Photo coutesy of Atsushi Nishijima and Disney Enterprises

It is impossible to hate A Wrinkle in Time. The revolutionary aspects of Ava DuVernay’s multi-million dollar adaptation of the beloved children’s classic cannot be discounted; this is a major, mainstream Disney film directed by and starring women of color, and was given the largest budget a woman of color has ever worked with in Hollywood. The film brims with empathy, celebrating and elevating its teenaged protagonist while crafting a story about bravery, overcoming fear, and forgiveness. There is not a cynical bone in its body, and not a single bad intention. It’s also not very good.

Wrinkle in Time tells the story of Meg Murray (Storm Reid), a young girl struggling to cope with the mysterious disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine) four years after he has vanished. Highly intelligent herself, Meg finds herself disinterested in school and the world at large until her genius brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) encounters three witches (Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon) who spirit the kids away on a planet-hopping adventure to find their father.

Long considered an unfilmable book, Wrinkle in Time is an uncommonly complex book for both children and the adaptation process. DuVernay, the director of excellent films like Selma and the documentary 13th, commits admirably to Wrinkle’s CGI, creating some of the images she creates in interpreting the source material. The process of jumping through time, or “tessering,” is conveyed through impressive, dizzying effects, and the final third of the film excellently heightens the alien nature of the hostile planet Camazotz by producing some legitimately nightmarish settings. For a movie primarily targeting children, Wrinkle is unafraid to dip into darker ideas, and is more than able to balance the tone of its friendlier material with those darker aspects. Still, for every impossible effect that works, there’s one that seems to obfuscate the context of Wrinkle’s adventure story. What I mean when I say this is at one point, Reese Witherspoon turns into a lettuce dragon. Magic is defined very nebulously throughout the movie, and the witches’ powers—not to mention their personalities—are barely sketched in.

If Wrinkle has one unobjectionable strength, it is the way it anchors its story in Storm Reid’s performance as Meg. DuVernay intended her film to speak to children and the everyday difficulties they face, and through Meg, she explores insecurity, heartbreak, and growing pains in a comprehensive way that is never diluted by the high fantasy shenanigans around it. So much of this is thanks to Reid, who taps into Meg’s frustration and creates a performance that is unafraid to embrace the character’s faults. Watching Meg’s growth in the face of increasing adversity works because of the angry, uncomfortable depths Reid is willing to explore. For an actress who is only 14-years-old, that is a staggering accomplishment.

A few of the supporting performances—especially, surprisingly, Chris Pine as Meg’s father and, less surprisingly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Meg’s mother—are excellent, if brief. The big disappointment here is the three witches, who, though played by three extremely talented actresses, and despite looking, from a pure costuming perspective, instantly iconic, are terribly executed. Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) gets the worst of it, consigned to speak only in inspirational, earthbound quotes. Kaling does what she can, but there’s virtually nothing for her to work with. Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) fare slightly better, with Witherspoon applying her trademark chipperness well and Winfrey bringing her infinite wisdom to an infinitely wise character. But the witches are also barely in the film, and when they are, CGI seems to take precedence over the three. Again, Witherspoon turns into a lettuce dragon, while Winfrey is distractingly rendered as a giant for most of her screen time, and Kaling barely has anything to say, lest the inspirational quotes thing get annoying (it does anyways). It doesn’t help that the trio only really factor into the middle third of the film, which is easily the most distractingly bad segment of the film, shoehorning in a confusing Zach Galifianakis cameo while drowning the adventure in too many different CGI landscapes without giving viewers any context or time to breathe between planets. Instead of adding to the emotional arc of Meg finding her father, it feels like a checklist of particularly underdeveloped kid’s adventure movie beats.

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Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling in A Wrinkle in Time (2018).
Photo coutesy of Atsushi Nishijima and Disney Enterprises

Despite all of this, Wrinkle in Time deserves to be seen on the big screen, and I can see it being an excellent film to show children. It is frustrating that it can’t fulfill all of its myriad ambitions, but the story of Meg, at its core, is a valuable one worth witnessing. Wrinkle in Time is messy at best, but has such an empathetic core, bold imagery, and positive message that it becomes impossible to completely dismiss.


CAMERON FAIRCHILD | Adamant Ava DuVernay Supporter and Chris Pine Apologist | KXSU Arts Reporter


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