A Wrinkle in Time (Ava DuVernay, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
I really wanted to like this movie, even though I was disappointed in the source text – Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book of the same title – when I recently re-read it (enjoyed its message of love and personal agency, but not its execution). I am a big fan of director Ava DuVernay’s last two movies, the 2015 biopic Selma and the 2016 documentary 13th, and so held out hope that she would transform the mawkish sentimentality and weak world-building of the novel into a rousing cinematic fantasy, made all the more powerful by the diversity of its casting. Sadly, though the film is not a disaster, I was not blown away. Still, I absolutely must sing the praises of its young leads, Storm Reid (Santa’s Boot Camp) and Deric McCabe (Stephanie), who save the show.
Reid plays tween Meg Murry, and McCabe her younger brother Charles Wallace. They are the precocious, socially awkward children of scientist parents (Chris Pine, Star Trek: Beyond, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Beyond the Lights). Dad has been missing for 4 years and is presumed dead by most of the world. In flashbacks, however, we learn that he was tinkering, along with his wife, on a way to travel vast distances across space and time by “wrinkling” both via a method known as a “tesseract.”
When three mysterious Macbethian-sorceress women materialize one day in the Murry’s backyard, announcing to Meg and Charles Wallace that the universe is in danger, their father is alive, and that only they can save him, the children – along with new friend Calvin – find themselves swept up in an intergalactic intrigue that transforms not only their view of how things work, but of themselves, as well. It’s Meg who will change the most, evolving from a shy, sullen girl into a full-fledged warrior woman who must defeat the forces of evil with the strength of her heart. Reid is more than up to the challenge of carrying the film, and though both CGI and script conspire against her, she comes out on top, convincing us that love does, indeed, triumph over all.
Unfortunately, the supporting material, including the bits with the aforementioned witch-like helpmates (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which) – played with corny glee by Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Oprah Winfrey (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) – and cloying digital effects, prevents the film from rising much above the level of minor children’s fare. At times narratively and aesthetically incoherent – with quick cuts to and from odd angles where stillness would serve the story better – A Wrinkle in Time never quite comes together under a single vision. Reid, though, ably supported by baby bro McCabe, makes much of it work out.