There is a heavy-handedness to director Ava DuVernay’s CGI effects-filled cinematic adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I’ve never read the novel but I’ve read the third book in the quintet, but that was a long time ago. And I don’t remember much of it, so I can’t talk about how closely the adaptation fares in comparison. I’m aware that this is a children’s movie based on a children’s book, but there is an overabundance of exposition and good will that the film feels like a hefty serving of platitudes. It feels counterintuitive in a coming-of-age story set in the backdrop of a fantasy adventure.
Without a doubt, DuVernay’s vision is visually stunning, quirky and playful. A Wrinkle in Time is filled with magical characters, creatures, and worlds. And there is also an evil that threatens to consume it all. It has a beautiful and remarkable young heroine, Meg, who must find her father who has unlocked the secrets of space travel with her younger brother, Charles Wallace and a friend from school, Calvin. Underneath all this is a beating heart with an inspiring message for all who join Meg and her companions in their journey.
Unfortunately, DuVernay and scriptwriter Jennifer Lee relentlessly pound you with this heart. The film sets up effortlessly its emotional core early on with fantastic performances by Meg’s scientist parents, played by Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. But the film keeps pounding away with all of these lessons that Meg needs to learn and is rather overt about it.
Add to that is DuVernay’s penchant for extreme close-ups of all its cast, especially during reaction shots of the three kids and the world around them and three magical beings who have come to help them, Mrs. Whatsit (a delightful Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The excessive use of close-ups feels manipulative when she ably executes a scene of joy and wonder in the first world that the kids come to and experience flight. It’s filled with the youthful exuberance and the film would have come off as more effortless if every scene was treated in the same manner: un-self-conscious and devoted to the moment.
The adventure in itself comes off as easy and is plagued by so much abstraction. The search for Meg and Charles Wallace’s father meets very little tension, if at all, while many of the tests and trials that the kids go through come off as predictable. There’s a whole lot more being said than done and it feels so unexciting.
But despite all of this, there is real magic here and it’s from the beautiful chemistry between Storm Reid (Meg) and the rest of the cast, most especially Pine and Mbatha-Raw. Reid’s Meg is strong yet filled with vulnerability and her relationship with Pine, Mbatha-Raw, and Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace) is so palpable that it hits all the right emotional notes.
It’s still a Disney movie, after all, and they’ll make sure that A Wrinkle in Time will touch your heart and make you feel something before it is done. The film is visually stunning but it feels like it’s working too hard and over delivering when all the elements are already there. A little restraint would have made ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ so much more stronger.