WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2018)
Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Storm Reid, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine
A book apparently considered ‘unfilmable’, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time seemingly posed a challenge to any filmmaker brave enough to step up and take on the challenge. In the hands of Disney, Ava DuVernay was the director tasked with bringing the zany and bizarre sci-fi fantasy to the big screen. A fine cast (plus Oprah Winfrey) combined with Disney’s might surely would ensure a cinematic explosion of greatness?
Not this time.
Meg Murry (Reid) is a young woman struggling to move on with life after the disappearance of her scientist father, Alexander (Pine). It’s been four years since he went AWOL whilst studying deep astrophysics and the idea of tesseracting – space travel between differing dimensions – and Meg and her adopted younger brother Charles Wallace (McCabe) must go through their days with stares, jibes, comments and sympathy from school classmates and teachers. Their lives are forever altered when three magical beings - Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Winfrey) – appear and take them on a journey through time and space to find their father on the strange, distant planet Uriel and to save him from The It – a dark shadow that has captured Alexander because of the experiments he conducted.
A Wrinkle in Time certainly proved to be an ambitious movie, given its apparent difficulty in adapting (despite an earlier TV movie), and whilst ambition is always to be applauded, it doesn’t always pay off successfully – as is the case here. Visually, the movie was a treat for the eyes, full of colour and verve but when the dodgy CGI kicked in, things looked less impressive. Whilst everyone involved gives their all, and the youngsters amongst the cast steal the show, there’s a strange disconnect within the movie. The majority of the emotional moments don’t hit home (bar a pink-bathed reunion) or feel satisfying and the sticky plot leaves a lot to be desired. For all of the great messages – empowerment, diversity etc. - within the movie, the end product feels a bit…generic when it should really have been out of this world.
Storm Reid, Levi Miller and Deric McCabe are the standout performers amongst the talented cast, the youngsters carrying the movie confidently on their eager shoulders. Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling seem to be having a blast as the zany cosmic beings and Oprah, well, is simply just Oprah. She initially appears as some sort of God in one of 2018’s more on-the-nose moments, and later delivered some Yoda-esque speeches – just not as eloquent as the green guy.
The movie is bursting with vibrancy and life in its more joyous or colourful moments, a rainbow of colours decorate the scenes and everything feels a bit happier because of it. Abstract moments are generally handled well, though the editing and framing weren’t always particularly helpful. When the CGI takes over, the movie begins to look horrendous. Reese Witherspoon transforms into a giant leek/lettuce leaf at one point and generally left me confused at why she did and how bad it looked. When the movie remains on a more grounded level, it plays and looks a lot better. Ramin Djawadi’s score is sporadically great, and at times really accentuated the on-screen happenings, though the cheesy soundtrack that peppers the more…inspirational moments of the movie lend a certain tackiness to proceedings and do certain scenes no favours.
Whilst the subtexts and messages are well-received and well-intended, eventually, it all becomes too heavy-handed and derails the story and dialogue. When the soundtrack isn’t pumping OTT inspirational Disney-pop into your ears, the characters are constantly reminding each other, and especially Meg, just how bloody great they really are. Fearlessness, love, inclusivity – all wonderful messages, however, the movie pretty much became nothing more than a vehicle for them by its end, at the expense of narrative.
I also developed an irrational annoyance at the name (and use) of ‘Charles Wallace’.
Creepy Charles Wallace and The It were well handled, though. That kid’s creepy. Whilst I have mentioned the use of messages was overdone, it’s great to have them in such a wide-reaching movie and, c’mon, it’s 2018, how has it taken so long for a woman of colour to helm such a huge blockbuster? One that's focal point is a mixed-race family. The answer is murky, but hopefully, this is just the beginning.
A Wrinkle in Time had the potential to be truly fantastic, but unfortunately, the ambition wasn’t matched by execution. It looks great, at times sounds great and has some wonderful performances from its young cast but it felt slightly hollow and mawkish for me to be fully engaged and the thin story just didn’t click. This fantastical fantasy falls short.
March 23rd 2018