There’s a great deal about director Ava DuVernay’s new take on “A Wrinkle in Time” that’s praiseworthy and worth experiencing firsthand.
Visually, it’s a beautifully constructed film. It exactly what you’d expect and hope from the artisans at Disney working with Madeleine L’Engle’s classic source material, taking audiences on a soaring ride that at times rivals the best of what Disney offers at its theme parks.
Thematically, the film seeks to inspire, to push a message of hope and love, especially to younger audiences. DuVernay and the film’s screenwriters aim to make hearts soar along with minds and imaginations, and at times during the film they succeed.
But for all their good intentions and lofty ambitions, “A Wrinkle in Time” falls short of spectacular. Pacing problems, uneven performances from the cast and at times stiff dialogue hamper the film’s overall effect, and it’s a shame, because this is one you’re going to want to like.
What’s it about?
The film’s final script from “Frozen” screenwriter Jennifer Lee retains much of the source material’s setup and initial conflicts.
Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a bright young woman haunted by the disappearance of her NASA physicist father (Chris Pine) four years earlier, struggles in school and at home, keeping emotional distance from everyone except her kid brother, child prodigy Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe).
Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s classmate Calvin are drawn into a journey across time and space to find Mr. Murry, guided by three powerful beings: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).
Along the way, they come face-to-face with the evil slowly spreading across the universe, known only as “The It.” To accomplish their mission and bring her father home, Meg must face “The It” and overcome the source of its universe-spanning power.
A mixed bag
Again, much of what really works well in this adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” lies in how art design, production design, make-up and costuming all bring DuVernay and Lee’s take on the material to life.
It may not be at all the way readers since L’Engle’s novel was published in 1962 imagined it, but it is often impressive and immersive, to the point where you’ll want to spend more time than the film allows on these beautiful worlds.
But therein lies one of the film’s most glaring issues – pacing. Overall, it moves in fits and starts, never truly hitting its stride. And while the scenes in all those masterfully crafted otherworldly locations feel truncated, the film as a whole tends to drag, feeling a lot longer than its 109-minute running time.
There’s no escaping the feeling that this film is trying really hard to be inspirational material for young people. There’s no subtlety whatsoever to the allegory or the messages here – it’s all spelled out so there’s no ambiguity, nothing left to interpretation.
Thus, as positive as those messages are and as important as they are to convey in today’s world, their heavy-handedness here may wear thin on more sophisticated audiences.
All that said, it’s tough to not recommend seeing “A Wrinkle in Time” in theaters. For those who remember reading and falling in love with L’Engle’s novel when they were young, it should prove an interesting experience, especially to note where the film deviates from the print version.
Also, all the film’s visual splendor should be experienced on a big screen – it will lose something when seen at home unless you’re watching it on a 60” screen or projecting it on a wall.
But this is one of those films where once you’ve seen it, you may find yourself wondering how it could have been done more effectively, with a little more subtlety in the writing and editing to truly fulfill the story’s dramatic and cinematic potential.
A Wrinkle in Time
Starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, with Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine. Directed by Ava DuVernay.
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some peril.