A Wrinkle In Time (2018) - Ava DuVernay
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
A dazzling, visual treat, A Wrinkle In Time, based on the best-selling 1962 book by Madeleine L'Engle, is as much an ambitious failure as it is a warmhearted, hopeful, moving passion project. Watching the film feels both engaging and distancing. It's a film where you can sense the dedication and commitment of all involved, and this is winning. At the same time though, the film never feels like it explodes into something truly spectacular. Too much of the film feels designed, engineered to reach its theme and emotional core, rather than organically earning it.
The story begins with Meg Murry (brilliantly performed by Storm Reid), a talented young girl who is still struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine) four years earlier. She is struggling at school - the local bullies tease her on the anniversary of his disappearance. She has a prodigious younger brother, Charles Wallace, and an good friend, Calvin, who is somewhat undeveloped but helps shape and influence Meg's character arc.
After a troubling day at school, Meg is visited by Mrs Whatsit, Resse Witherspoon having a lot of fun. As the story unfolds, Witherspoon is joined by Mindy Kaling (Mrs. Who) and Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which) who combined are warriors for the forces of good. They are guides, assisting Meg as she sets out on a journey to find her father. A father who is lost in space after discovering, through some flaky science, that you can "tesser" across time and space if you understand and attune yourself to the right frequency. Despite the unconvincing science, and the awkward integration with the stories more fantastical elements, this "tessering" works as a fairly engaging metaphor for Meg's journey of self discovery and self acceptance.
It's only when she learns to be at one with herself and comfortable with who she that she can unlock the ability to find her father and hopefully rescue him.
From this setup, the film delivers an array of visual delights, bold colours and grand sequences as Meg "tessers" from planet to planet exploring the universe in search of her father. On this journey she inevitably encounters darkness and evil. Here's its called The It. One of the films stand out moments see Winfrey's Mrs. Which explain how darkness manifests across the universe through peoples envy, jealousy and greed etc. It's an effective moment which reminds you of who this film's target audience is and how enduring and universal its ideas and themes remain.
The film has its faults. The story feels rushed, and the emotional trajectory feels laboured and over engineered. The universe in which these extravagant characters, worlds and concepts exist never feel fully developed. Or more accurately, the film never feels like it has time to breath and just be within them. A lighting quick trip to visit the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) feels rushed and his character and performance are wasted. There are ingeniously conceived, and brilliantly realised worlds and concepts. One such being a beach sequence where holiday makers sunbath and play on the sand. Gradually you begin to feel as those these people are all prisoners. Lured into indulgence by the nefarious darkness. But the sequence flies by so quickly you never get to fully explore the setting, and as such you feel disconnected and unsure of exactly what the film is trying to say.
The dialogue is also often clunky. Most notably with Mindy Kaling's Mrs. Who who literally spends the entire film reciting quotes from other famous people. What could have been a quirky character sits uneasily because we're never really given the time or opportunity to get to know this character and explore what makes them the way they are. It's a testament to the performances and DuVernay's direction that the dialogue never derails the film. Storm Reid in particular is exceptional, channeling depths of emotion the script seems intent of restricting. She plays the childish insecurity and self doubt wonderfully, and the emotional highs of the film, especially the finale, are down to her stirring, grounded and believable performance.
A Wrinkle In Time feels like a film which has been hamstrung. The script feels underdeveloped, the running time brisk and limiting to a story and world which threatens but is never given the opportunity to break out into the wondrous, awe-inspiring experience it could have been. A lack of world building, an inconsistent tone and a telegraphed theme hamper a film which you feel could have been something truly special. Despite its faults however, the winning and committed performance from Storm Reid, the dazzling effects, glimpses of inviting and tempting worlds did enough to win me over. although never emotionally committing to the film, I found myself somewhat swept along by the story, but am left with a niggling sense of what could have been.