"A Wrinkle In Time" Gets By On Heart, Strong Lead Performance

Love is always there. Even if you can’t see it.

The warmth that radiates from the opening minutes of Disney’s big screen adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time is noteworthy for two reasons. One, it denotes the beginning of a 110-minute long hug. Director Ava DuVernay and screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell wring the ubiquitous 1962 novel for all the compassion and grace it’s worth, putting a modern spin on the late Madeleine L’Engle’s text while retaining the story’s broad strokes and full heart.

Two, the rest of the film hangs on it. No matter how much the movie goes on to confound or meander, and it confounds and meanders a lot, its core of a young girl traversing time and space in search of her long-lost father resounds. Loudly.

DuVernay’s narrative feature follow-up to 2014’s Oscar-winning “Selma” stars Storm Reid as 13-year-old Meg, the daughter of a black mother, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and a white father, Alexander (Chris Pine), both respected scientists. On the verge of unlocking the secrets of the universe, Alexander disappears, leaving behind his family, including his newly adopted son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), for four long years. As a result, the brilliant Meg begins to struggle in school, clinging to the fading hope that her father is still alive, somewhere out there.

Reid, Pine, and Mbatha-Raw are impeccable in their roles, each lending an innate likability to a family unit torn but not severed. Reid is especially good, announcing herself as the rare adolescent capable of shouldering an entire feature. Even as the film’s far less effective fantasy characters enter the fray, Reid holds our attention and keeps our focus on the themes of faith, family, and self-worth.

But the danger inherent in a big screen “Wrinkle In Time” is in the story’s interstellar elements coming off like a low-rent “Wizard Of Oz” – in this case, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Acts two and three prove unworthy of their starry casting and ritzy but half-baked special effects, unnecessarily dragging the film past the 90-minute mark.

Although ersatz fairy godmothers Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) are introduced organically enough, the elaborate sequences that follow are largely bereft of meaning, much less logic. Instead of our eyes popping at the candy-colored visuals and familiar faces (Zach Galifiankis and Michael Peña appear in extended cameos), we’re left to wonder what any of this has to do with the eternal bond between father and daughter and how it worked as well as it did on the page.

As Winfrey’s Mrs. Which monotonously spells out the motivations of the evil “IT,” a malicious intergalactic being responsible for all of the suffering in the world, only its tenuous connection to Meg’s home life resonates. Without Reid’s intrepid performance to keep us homed in on the point, all of the goodwill generated by act one might have gone up in smoke. Instead, DuVernay’s poised lead performer keeps us from divesting.

In aggregate, the project is an endearing clutter. Of the interplanetary personalities, only Witherspoon’s makes an impact, her bubbly charm elevating more than one flatlining setpiece. (Unfortunately, her best efforts go to waste as soon as her character turns into a flying CGI lettuce creature.) Perhaps the most striking emblem of the pic’s failings is Meg’s friend Calvin (Levi Miller), a void of a supporting character whose empty presence evinces a fundamentally broken screenplay.

Consequently, viewers aged 6-12 are best situated for enjoyment – old enough to parse the movie’s themes but without the critical faculties liable to hamstring the experience. At least in this respect, Ava DuVernay and company have done the material justice. “A Wrinkle In Time” is optimal for its target audience, faultless in spirit and intention.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: March 9, 2018
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenwriters: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Starring: Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Andre Holland, Michael Peña
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some peril)