Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is proof that lowering one’s expectations for a movie is no cure for disappointment. Based on a novel by Madeline L’Engle, the movie has received much online criticism by fans of the book for deviating from the source material. Some comments have suggested that the movie secularizes a tale that once carried a religious weight and loses a lot of meaning as a result. I felt similarly despite never having read the novel.
The film follows a thirteen-year-old named Meg Murry who goes from good girl to delinquent during the years since her astrophysicist father disappeared. At the time of his disappearance, Meg’s father was studying the idea of “tessering,” intergalactic travel by folding time and space. When her annoying adopted brother Charles Wallace makes friends with three interdimensional beings, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, they inform Meg that her father is somewhere out in the cosmos and encourage her to go rescue him.
Tessering in real life would be easier than explaining this movie’s universe, its rules, and exactly why things happen the way they do. “A Wrinkle in Time” is directed by Ava DuVernay, who traps whatever profundity the movie could have had under a thick layer of artifice. Though often visually resplendent, “A Wrinkle in Time” drags with choppy storytelling and clunky regurgitations of self-help book platitudes that drown the audience in pseudo-wisdom. Whenever the movie tries to say something meaningful, none of what unfolds onscreen is sturdy enough to support its pronouncements.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is unapologetically a kid’s film, but considering Disney’s record of making children’s movies that adults can also enjoy, there’s no excuse for the movie to be this infantilizing. Though the movie’s message of being accepting of one’s faults is a positive one for kids, it ruins it by sledgehammering its way to that destination.
The struggle between light and darkness is also a huge part of “A Wrinkle in Time,” but the narrative is too baffling to make effective use of this theme. By the end, the film will probably leave viewers trying to figure out exactly what happened rather than what the movie has to say about these ideas.
Though most publications have been forthcoming about the movie’s faults, many have applauded the movie for being diversity personified. There’s nothing wrong with having a racially diverse cast, but the performances themselves range from flat to awful.
Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who are played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, respectively. All three actresses wear makeup and dresses so heavy that none of them ever look comfortable. Their costumes and makeup, beautiful as they look, are their entire performances. Witherspoon acts smug while Winfrey and Kaling just read their lines like they didn’t know the cameras were rolling.
It may seem churlish to criticize child actors, but they command so much of the film’s runtime that I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that “A Wrinkle in Time” has one of the worst child performances in recent memory.
Storm Reid has some convincing moments as Meg, but she glaringly underacts at points, particularly when she has a blasé reaction to a three-story tall Oprah Winfrey appearing on her lawn.
While Levi Miller is passably likeable but ineffectual as Meg’s friend Calvin, the performance that viewers will remember for all the worst reasons is Deric McCabe as Meg’s adopted brother Charles Wallace.
A prodigious kid with an overly preppy look, Charles Wallace gets used as the creepy little kid trope when he becomes possessed by an evil force later in the film. Unfortunately, this plot point is preceded by an hour and a half where his overripe cutesiness and high-pitched voice embody the movie’s cloying tone all too well. I guarantee adults and children over 8 will find him grating.
While “A Wrinkle in Time” only pays lip service to its themes without doing much else, one does get the idea that somewhere in this project’s DNA is a profound story truncated by a poor script and suffocated by empty spectacle.
“A Wrinkle in Time” was made once before as a made-for-TV movie in 2003, four years before Madeline L’Engle’s death. L’Engle tersely said of that adaptation, “I have glimpsed it… I expected it to be bad, and it is.” I can’t imagine her saying anything different about this version.
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