Mark Reviews Movies

A Wrinkle in Time


2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ava DuVernay

Cast: Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some peril)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 3/9/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 8, 2018

Some things are, perhaps, best left to the imagination. That's the feeling one might get while watching the first two acts of A Wrinkle in Time, an adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 novel about a group of kids who travel through space and time to find two of the kids' missing father. The movie is occasionally clumsy in its narrative and awkward in its presentation of the story's variously strange characters, wondrous worlds, and experimental science.

Its missteps might be attributed to director Ava DuVernay, a fine filmmaker in her own right who leaps into the realm of genre-centric, visual effects-heavy movies with this outing. She's not ill-prepared or anything. It's simply that, during the surreal and emotionally charged third act, it becomes clear that DuVernay's focus here is on elements of this tale that take some time to arrive.

Much of the movie, though, is about the journey to that place, that feeling, and that thematic goal. We see some marvelous sights here, especially in the assorted planets to which the kids travel. We also receive a trio of guides who offer advice and rules in New Age parlance, shaky science, and, in the case of one character, quotes from a wide assortment of famous people (from politicians to rappers and from philosophers to writers of Broadway musicals). The screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell spends a lot of time holding the audience's collective hand through the plot, even though it's apparent that the story has much more on its mind.

DuVernay's handling of the lengthy introduction and gradual movement toward that third act feels a bit distracted. Once the story dismisses the guides and reaches a place where the characters have to face their darkest fears, we can tell why DuVernay seems at an arm's length from the earlier material. The surreal, ever-changing location, filled with subversive ideas and some imagery that's both minimalist and abstract, is where the filmmaker is afforded the opportunity to flex her imaginative muscles, and she does so in the service of an almost isolated story about facing one's internal struggles, some seemingly impossible choices, and the concept of evil on a personal level.

Well before that, though, the story tells of the disappearance of NASA scientist Dr. Alexander Murry (Chris Pine), after he began working on a seemingly mystical way to travel through space. The scientist left behind his fellow-scientist wife Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and their children, Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Four years after Dr. Murry's mysterious disappearance, Meg has become secluded and is often bullied by her classmates. While she and her mother are discussing her father, there's a knock at the door, and Charles Wallace introduces his family to his new friend, an eccentric woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who suggests that she knows a way to find Dr. Murry.

Mrs. Whatsit is part of a trio of immortal, billions-of-years-old women who are warriors for "the light." The other two are Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who has evolved beyond language and quotes others when speaking is necessary, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the group's glittery-lipstick-wearing, jeweled-eyebrow-possessing leader. While spending a day with Calvin (Levi Miller), a classmate who has a crush on her, Meg, her new friend, and Charles Wallace are whisked across the universe by the immortals, with the goal of finding and, later, rescuing Dr. Murry.

Much of the exposition here seems cobbled together with little focus or much thought. The sudden appearance and quick dive into the qualities of the immortals barely give us time to ponder, let alone accept, the story's immediate transition from Meg's down-to-earth troubles to the other-worldly concerns of the three women.

There's a lot of catching up to do here, as the women introduce the idea of "tessering"—traveling through space using one's mind—and the kids find themselves on strange planets, confronted with an embodiment of evil in the universe, known simply as "the It." All of these concepts are explained, but the movie doesn't have its heart in the explanations. They're excuses, really, to provide the wondrous vistas of the planets and a fantastical sequence in which Mrs. Whatsit transforms into a giant leaf, giving the three kids the chance to fly over grand mountains and through the cloudy skies, into which giant spires of rocks extend.

We also meet a seer named the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), whose cavernous home forces guests to balance on stones atop pillars. He gives the group some information about Dr. Murry, but it's a smaller moment that offers some sign of the story's ideas put into practice. It's a hug, after Meg finally confronts her fears about her father's disappearance. This is a simple gesture, but it's one that gets to the heart of where this material is going.

The final act is an extended exploration of the It's planet, a deceptive place called Camazotz, where the kids are tested with suburban comfort, an eternal beach vacation, and a series of choices that could further divide this already divided family. This section of A Wrinkle in Time is hypnotic in the way it fully embraces the strangeness and emotional core of the material. Ultimately, we're left wondering where this genuinely imaginative vision and strength of emotion has been during the rest of the movie.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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