Starring Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, Zach Galifianakis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Levi Miller
Five minutes in to Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, and I knew, I hated this film. The tone was set, and that relentlessly earnest tone was never going to be compelling to me. From that point on, the movie Grinch in me took over (a demon I’m rarely obstructed by), and the scoffer of all sincerity reigned. Over the course of the film’s plodding 2 hour runtime, there were eye-rolls, heavy sighs, magnetized eyelids, and sneers a-plenty, and I accepted that I would have to block out the social importance of the film, the valuable themes it touches on, and the history it made when Ava Duvernay (a black woman) stepped into its directing chair, because as much I applaud those aspects of the film, A Wrinkle in Time is a bad movie.
It begins almost in montage form, a style that gets repeated all too often in the film. We meet Meg Murray (played by Storm Reid) and her closely knit family that includes her Physicist parents, Dr. Kate Murray (Mbatha-Raw) and Dr. Alexander Murray (Pine), and her newly adopted brother, Charles Wallace (played by Deric McCabe). Fast forward a bit, and now the Murray family lives without their father, who disappeared mysteriously and hasn’t been seen for 4 years. Meg thinks about him constantly. She gets bullied at school for being odd, her grades slip dramatically, and she feels disconnected from the world. She finds it difficult to trust anyone. Charles Wallace, a genius, is looked at as an oddball too. He worships Meg, but unlike her, he seems to trust too easily, which is why he lets the bizarre, otherworldly Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) in the house, to both Meg and their mom’s dismay. Soon Meg and Charles Wallace meet the equally bizarre forms of Mrs. Which (Oprah) and Mrs. Who (Kaling), and the trio explain to the siblings about tesseracts (a type of instantaneous travel that their dad was studying when he disappeared). Joined by one of her kind classmates, Calvin (Miller), Meg sees an opportunity to find and rescue her father, and so the adventure begins. In order to save him, she’ll have to travel through space and time, and confront the IT (an evil, formless entity) as well as the insecurities that she harbors inside of her.
Duvernay, who directed the highly successful Selma, amongst other, smaller work, has proven she can direct a high profile film, but she’s taken on a novel that is said to be nearly unfilmable, and lost. Getting great performances from children is a tricky business. Add to that, material that’s operating on a several levels, hoping to be profound, and you’re asking a lot from a young, inexperienced cast. I found the acting awkward and the dialogue stilted. What little jokes are present fall-flat making the proceedings crawl by humorlessly. At several points, the film halts in order to provide us with a song and a collection of pretty images (the effect being that of an inserted music video), and regardless of the fact that some of the songs are very good (one being by Sade for instance), the film loses momentum. Whenever you have a film and a director reaching for big ideas, if they don’t resonate or they don’t land, the result is going to be a film like A Wrinkle in Time that simply feels pretentious.