As a longtime comic book reader and a fan of comic book movies, one of the blind spots I’ve had to identify is that my knowledge of the source material sometimes fills in the gaps left by a flawed film. As someone who never read the original classic novel “A Wrinkle In Time”, I have no such benefit here and that made the movie’s gaps all the more glaring and consistent.
“A Wrinkle In Time” is the story of Meg Murry, a teenage girl who goes on a trip across the universe in order to find her missing father. With her little brother Charles-Wallace and fellow classmate/big man on campus Calvin O’Keefe in tow, she is guided by three celestial beings who also want her to help them battle an impending darkness that threatens to overtake the universe. You know, typical sci-fi stuff.
Meg Murry is played by fourteen-year-old Storm Reid and I’m willing to bet that Miss Reid is probably not at all like her brooding and troubled onscreen counterpart. She’s probably quite positive and bubbly in real life because anytime the role requires her to do more than just frown, she’s quite comfortable and moving. Unfortunately, Meg frowns a lot in the beginning of the movie which means that Reid struggles a bit to convey Meg’s sense of despair, especially at the times when she’s given very obvious and repetitive dialogue that quickly turns the character into a moper and a whiner. Miss Reid has a future in film but this role is not the best showcase of her talents.
The rest of the cast is delightful. Chris Pine is a surprise since we’ve seen him play almost everything but a middle-aged family man. His portrayal of a driven scientist (who’s just two steps shy of mad) tempered by the love he has for his family is sure to open a whole new avenue for Pine’s career.
However, the real breakout star of this film is young Deric McCabe who plays Meg’s little brother Charles-Wallace and was only 7-8 years old when this movie was made. He’s charming, versatile and magnetic. It’s been a long time since we’ve had someone come fill the void left behind by a young Dakota Fanning or Freddie Highmore and even if there was nothing else in this movie to love, I would still tell you to check out this movie for McCabe’s performance.
However, there is plenty to love in this film, especially its visuals. It will be no surprise when this film racks up Oscar nominations for every design and visual category, especially one for Paco Delgado’s costume design. I’d also like to think that it’s no coincidence this is the first strictly sci-fi/fantasy film for Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon and I’d like to thank director Ava DuVernay for her casting choices. To see these veteran actresses all utterly transformed like we’ve never seen before is a treat within itself but it’s also easy to see how the fantastic wardrobe influenced their pitch-perfect performances of divine creatures who spread light to a universe always threatened by dark forces. (Although, one could say that’s just Oprah, Mindy and Resse being Oprah, Mindy and Reese.)
Winfrey, Kaling and Witherspoon are all perfectly cast as the Mrs. W’s but they suffer from what the rest of the film suffers from: Too little screentime. The movie clocks in around an hour and forty-five minutes and that’s far too little time for much of anything else other than transporting from one visually impressive vignette to another. We don’t get to emotionally bond as thoroughly as we should for this sci-fi epic to truly be effective. We don’t get any explanation of how wrinkling time/space actually works, we’re just supposed to take it on the word of the set dressing of equations on chalkboards and makeshift garage labs that there is an actual science at work in this magic. When we get to meet Mindy Kaling’s Mrs. Who, we’re just introduced to a strange woman who seems to live in a dilapidated old house surrounded by books who uses other writers’ words instead of her own and before we can really get beyond an introduction, we’re whisked away to the next scene. The whole film carries on this way as if every moment is scared of wearing out its welcome. This is the latest in a long line of recent films that I’ve noticed seems to be overly concerned about its runtime instead of how the pacing best serves the film itself.
The overall film is beautiful, visionary and uplifting but ultimately messy and far too hasty. With the exception of a few perfect moments, the majority of this movie leaves itself open to accusations of being shallow since it insists on making a general point, underlining that point and then highlighting it again i.e. placing a character in an obviously scary situation while that character has a scared expression on their face and having them yell, “I can’t! I’m scared!” It’s obvious that “A Wrinkle In Time” is aiming for the kids in the theater but I wished it trusted its audience enough to know that you don’t have to talk down to them. They can keep up.