Brace yourselves to see me in my most heartbroken state yet:
So A Wrinkle in Time is the adaptation of the famous science fiction children’s novel by Madeleine L’Engle coming to us from the mind of Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and 13th, with the funding of the almighty Mouse and featuring potential presidential candidate for 2020, Oprah Winfrey. In other words, we are about to a stroll into a bloody minefield with heightened emotions who are fans of film, the original book, DuVernay’s critical success, and Winfrey’s devout loyalists. Having seen the film, it’s left me with quite a bit to talk about, but do bear in mind I never read the original book as a kid on account that it wasn’t required reading for me and the fact that the prose baffled me at my young age. I only know there was a Disney channel adaptation over 15 years ago, but I never really looked closely at this story to form any sort of attachment. With that said, let’s see if this film manages to hook me in the way it did for so many other people.
We find our protagonist in a young girl named Meg (Storm Reid), who has become emotionally distant at school on account that her astrophysicist father (Chris Pine) mysteriously disappeared 4 years ago without a trace. However, a bizarre stranger by the name of Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) informs Meg that her father has achieved what humans thought impossible: he managed to teleport himself light years across the cosmos to new planets with the power of thought alone. As a self-described “warrior of light,” Mrs. Whatsit and her associates Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) invite Meg, her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and her school crush, Calvin (Levi Miller) to journey with them across planets through the power of “tessering” (using love as a frequency in order to teleport…roll with it) and recover the missing father. However, they find that man is in great danger as he is now a prisoner of the evil “It” (no not that one), who spreads fear and hate across the universe.
Now the whole concept of using love in order to teleport yourself across star system is patently silly, so is the concept of using love as a magical spell that shields you a la Harry Potter or using love in order to share the power of a massive force of energy. I can certainly roll with that, despite the fact the film keeps trying to use scientific concepts in order to explain how all this teleportation business is even feasible. At least they keep science soft enough that it doesn’t become too distracting the way Interstellar took a similar concept and made the film as a whole look completely stupid. But I’ll get back to Christopher Nolan’s opus later, for now I want to talk about whether the film as a whole works. And…yeah it’s a big no. This film is a hot mess. While it has elements I like, I have major problems with the movie that keep me from enjoying it.
First stop on the complain train are your main characters like any degree of likability or even interest whatsoever. Meg is basically a blank slate for a good chunk of this film that she basically carries the same expression on her face for 2/3 of screen time. Part of this might have something to do with the young actress and part of it is the writing as she’s barely given opportunities to talk about feelings or what she is going through. Instead, other characters basically tell you, the audience, what she’s going through through expository dialogue that she barely reacts to. That’s not great development, and for a film that wants us to buy outlandish concepts, it’s one roadblock out of many that keep coming at you a mile per second.
Because when the film isn’t focused on Meg, we get to follow Charles Wallace, who has an actor that I’m not sure if is atrocious at his job or a goddamn prodigy. Because every line of dialogue out of this kid’s mouth is so unreal, so misplaced with what you’re seeing on screen, that you’re kind of fascinated with the boy every time he time belts out a word. It’s borderline fascinating the way Tommy Wiseau acted in The Room, but you have trouble reconciling the fact he almost certain he got formal training for this gig from a two-time Academy-Award nominated director.
And this is the part of my review where people will likely be bringing out pitchforks and torches if I dare besmirch the name of Ava DuVernay. So let me speak my peace when I say she still has a decent eye for cinematography even if she is a bit inexperienced when it comes to handle massive budgets for computer-generated effects, which seems par for the course for these critical darlings. And if she can guide much of the supporting cast to where they need to be (save for Charles Wallace’s maelstrom of energy), there is something to champion her for. Hell, she even managed to tug at my heartstrings with one, very intimate, very powerful scene towards the end despite everything I had witnessed up to the point…too bad she still had 20 minutes to go as she served it up with a very, very clumsy character climax that was emblematic of everything that was wrong with this production. But without belaboring the point, DuVernay was in charge of two things that led to this film’s downfall: the writing and the editing.
This script is a total friggin’ car wreck on a good day, and I shall not fill your head with grotesque imagery for the bad day. When the film isn’t busy with exposition being crammed down your earholes every chance it gets, it fails to give your characters any depth or even strong motivation when it clearly intended to. See, Meg’s dream boy in Calvin is shown to have some sad history that unfortunately doesn’t play in to much later down the line even as the movie sent him off on his way that he learned…something important for his life. Hell, the movie even fails to justify his hand in this journey as the three Misses all say he will be handy on the journey for knack in diplomacy. Teeny tiny spoiler: he is never once given an opportunity to be remotely diplomatic in solving any dispute whatsoever. He’s mostly there for our protagonist to bounce dialogue off of because the alternative was having pure silence for long stretches of time.
But Calvin is far from the most underwritten character on hand. No, for that we go to the Misses who are all portrayed as massively powerful goddesses with whimsical dialogue until the plot demands it. For instance, Mindy Kalling’s Mrs. Who speaks entirely in quotations from various works of literature as her mind has transcended typical language. Now on one hand, that would make for a really interesting character to write as the kids are forced to ponder what she’s getting at by interpreting her quotations. But bear in mind I said would, in practice the film just uses her to date this film by having her quote Outkast and Chris Tucker (yes really). On top of that, the film contrives a reason for her to drop the quotation act and she just speaks directly and clearly to the kids so all fun of this character immediately evaporates. Further, Oprah’s Mrs. Which is spoken by everyone as the ultimate and most powerful being in existence and yes we are almost close to writing a role that would satisfy Mrs. Winfrey’s massive ego, but not quite. See for as super powerful as she is told to us to be, she doesn’t do…anything really. I mean she says words of encouragement but big whoop, why call her the “great and powerful” if she isn’t going to do jack?
Now some of this might feel like I’m nitpicking, but keep in mind these are multiple small problems that slowly come together to form larger more insurmountable problems the movie can’t handle. See, the reason the weaknesses with all the aforementioned characters exist is that I’m sure scenes explaining these concepts wound up on the cutting room floor. The only reason I know this is because this film is so obviously hacked the goddamn bone that whole lines of dialogue just appear straight up confusing in the context of what we’ve so far. It’s possible these scenes were cut because they were too boring…understandable as this film is really paced very slowly. But the film’s frantic editing also gives this illusion that we just bounce around from scene to scene with no flow whatsoever. It really feels like you’re trapped in a dream where there is no rhyme nor reason for what’s being shown to you. I’ve slagged Batman v. Superman for this critical mistake, and I’ll be damned if I don’t hold a two-time Academy Award nominated director to the standard of wanting simple cohesion in a movie.
Now I know what some of you, like certain film critics, are all saying: “Oh come on, it’s just a children’s movie, what do you expect?” First of all, thanks for asking me to lower my standards. Secondly, I’ve seen tons of so-called children‘s films like Paddington 2, Coco, The Lego Batman Movie, and Zootopia that are all clearly made to appeal to anyone under the age of 10, and all of those managed to entertain me while giving me tons of qualities to admire. Thirdly, kids these days are practically flooded with imaginative images from film, television, and video games, so why bother recommending them a film that’s hard to follow to boot?
The stupid tragedy about this film is, much like Disney’s previous good-willed effort in Tomorrowland, I got what the message and theme of this film was supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a treatise on not only love for others but love for yourself, to feel comfortable and proud of who you are even as you are surrounded and assailed from all sides by negativity. It’s a genuine lesson that kids need to hear, and hell some adults could stand to re-learn the lesson as well. But they’re not going to hear it through this movie, not when it’s more concerned with shoving in your eyeballs as much CGI it could muster.
I don’t want to give this film a low rating. While I bloody well should, intentions and ambitions do count for a lot on my streets. And besides, the film does have positive elements to it despite being hampered by it’s shredded script and godawful editing, namely in its concept, central theme and a couple of decent moments when Storm Reid was allowed to emote and show some genuine pathos as the main character. So wait for the extended cut on Blu-ray, because this is a…
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PS for people who have seen Interstellar:
So my girlfriend explained to me something that made me have a “drop the coffee moment” from The Usual Suspects: Interstellar is basically A Wrinkle in Time from the dad’s perspective. In both stories, Love is the fabric of space time that connects the daughter to the father. The dad in both stories leaves his family who become embittered from his departure and he gets trapped in a Tesseract after discovering a shocking formula that allows for passage of space time. Only difference is that in Interstellar manages to get a message out to his daughter, but the only reason he is in that situation was due to the black hole created by “the other beings.” And A Wrinkle in Time has “other beings” in the form of the three witches who help the protagonist travel space time…just like the dad in Interstellar.
So basically Jonathan Nolan turned his A Wrinkle in Time fan fiction into a theatrical motion picture before Disney could…ain’t that a kick in the head?