This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Ava DuVernay
The joy of watching a Disney film often lies in the expectations. We expect to go on a nice clean journey, feel like a kid again, and leave the theater feeling warm and fuzzy inside. But when Disney takes a big risk with some unconventional source material, it thwarts those expectations and leads to feelings of unease. I for one was rooting for this big risk to pay off, and I definitely wanted Ava DuVernay to pull of her first big budget fantasy feature. But unfortunately, A WRINKLE IN TIME took some big risks that fell flat.
A WRINKLE IN TIME is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle. This is a novel that was rejected by publishers 26 times, so despite its ultimate success since its release, L’Engle’s book is not for everyone. The film portrays Meg (Storm Reid) as a biracial 13-year-old girl who is well loved by her family but held back by some serious self esteem issues and bullies at school. Her father, adventurous scientist Dr Murray (Chris Pine), has been missing for the past four years, leading her to hold a lot of anger for his unintentional abandonment. Her ultra-confident five-year-old brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) forms a relationship with three magical entities known as The Mrs.: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The Mrs. take Meg, Charles, and tagalong school boy Calvin (Levi Miller) on a journey through a tesseract to find Dr. Murray in the far reaches of the universe. Along the way they also kind of need to save the universe from The It, the source of all darkness.
A one-hundred-foot-tall Oprah is not enough to save this movie
The film stumbles its way through visits to multiple different worlds, all of which feel like an acid trip for preteens. I won’t lie, this film looks amazing. Even those who have had enough of the endless flood of gratuitous CGI in contemporary cinema will be captivated by the delicious colors and crazy amounts of depth. But in regards to character and plot, this film gives us almost nothing. It’s painfully episodic, almost like watching an open-ended video game instead of a movie. Meg and her crew bounce randomly from world to world, without so much as a hint to what direction they should be going in. The worlds we enter have no rules, so the viewer is given very little to be afraid of and nothing to anticipate. The guidance provided by The Mrs. is wordy and vague, leaving both Meg and the audience in a constant state of head-scratching confusion.
The main character Meg is also grossly underdeveloped. We get that Meg is sad. We get that she is bullied at school. But we get so little insight into who she is as a person. We do, however, constantly hear the other characters tell Meg how amazing she is. Everyone is repeatedly telling her that she should embrace her faults because they make her great. But what are those faults? Actress Storm Reid delivers an emotional performance but is given very little personality to work with. It would have been nice to understand more of what makes Meg tick—what exactly are her personality traits? What are her hobbies? What are her fears? All we know is that she misses her father. The film kind of panders to young girls, echoing common sentiments girls have in their preteen years (“Most days I hate myself” and “Can I come back as someone else?” being notable lines), but not actually giving us a character that clearly captures what those years feel like.
For just a fleeting moment, the pretty colors made me forget about the lack of character development
There are admittedly some clever lines and comedy sprinkled throughout, but a lot of it manages to get lost in the shuffle, with the exception of Zach Galifianakis, who makes a memorable cameo as The Medium. Overall, the writing is sloppy from the get-go, diving into the main conflict without really knowing who these characters are. This film often tells the viewer how to feel, rather than delivering its themes through action. A WRINKLE IN TIME tells children that they must love what makes them unique, and that love is a powerful weapon against the darkness in the world. These themes are the basis of most family movies with a “chosen one”-type hero at the helm. But the poor writing prevents these universal themes from coming through in a natural way.
Despite the love and ambition that went into bringing this story to life, A WRINKLE IN TIME is quite a disappointment. It’s great that Ava DuVernay was given the opportunity to make a big budget feature, and I love that she cast a young black girl as her lead. But just because it is a diverse production doesn’t automatically make it a good film. Oprah and diverse casting isn’t enough! I’m all for more representation of minorities in film, but we also deserve a good story with complex characters, not one that confuses us and puts us to sleep.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend