What it’s about: Meg is a young girl with many faults. She’s angry, doesn’t trust people, and lacks self-confidence. On the fourth anniversary of her father’s disappearance, her and her younger brother Charles Wallace are recruited on an adventure to find him in an alternate universe full of beauty and danger. Three wondrous and strange beings [Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey] guide Meg through this perilous journey, imparting the tools and wisdom needed to face the ultimate darkness. But only Meg can face evil and her personal demons to save her father.
A Wrinkle in Time has become one of the most polarizing films in recent years because of its tremendous expectations, goodwill for Ava DuVernay, a large fanbase nostalgic for the book, and ultimately its poor critical consensus and box office disappointment. Going to see the film a week after its opening gave me more metered expectations and I think that further shaped my opinion. I ended up liking A Wrinkle in Time quite a bit.
Based on what I’d heard, I expected the film to be much more wildly uneven. The narrative is far from smooth, it feels a little truncated and doesn’t always connect from A to B to C, but I found the messaging, both emotionally and spiritually, to be wholly consistent.
I suspect that the way A Wrinkle in Time wears its themes and heart on its sleeve won’t work for everyone. Everything it is trying to say is completely explicit, without much nuance. It never really challenge the viewer [though it might be a little scary at times for younger children].
I haven’t read the novel but this approach feels very much intended for children. Narratively and thematically, adults will have to make concessions. This is typically a problem and is surely a reason why I wasn’t fully behind the film. At the same time, I was wrapped up in the film’s heart. We could use more films this big and bold that are about being good to each other and loving yourself.
It is also amazing to see a fantasy film that is so invested in the importance of science -- this is more Star Trek than Star Wars as far as Hollywood fantasies go. Even if a lot of the science relevant to the central plot mystery is probably just jargon, the film consistently shows how science and mathematics are vital without getting in the way of feelings. Science and emotion can work together to solve our problems.
I can see why the three mystical characters played by Witherspoon, Kaling, and Winfrey are iconic to those who’ve read the source material. Winfrey’s presence, in particular, obviously brings in an extra layer of meaning to the character’s words and while it is impossible not to look at Mrs. Witch as anyone other than Oprah, she works well enough. When she is a special effect near the beginning of the film, acting exclusively with a green screen, she comes off a bit stiff. When she is looking into the Meg’s eyes and delivering wisdom, however, the words have power beyond the screen.
Their three children counterparts are played by relative newcomers in their first substantial roles. Overall, their inexperience shows. Storm Reid handles the emotional beats well and that’s really her most important position. Strangely enough, the worst of the three child performances is the one that is the most entertaining, Levi Miller as the cute boy tagalong. His character doesn’t work at all except that it is the gender inverse of so many terrible girlfriend roles we see in films like this. I’m not sure if Miller knew what he was playing at, but the screenwriters and DuVernay have made an interesting statement.
I was expecting the costuming to be garish but it is a beautiful part of this grand world. The character designs work much better as part of the film than singled out in the marketing.
As for the special effects, I think they mostly come off well, but I couldn’t help but want a touch of practical effects to go along with it, akin to the many 1980s fantasy adventures that use puppetry so beautifully. I recently just revisited The NeverEnding Story for the first time in years and the look of that film really holds up [even if the narrative is a little long and boring]. I fear that A Wrinkle in Time may look less interesting decades from now.