March 11, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

Grade: C –
Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Chris Pine, and Zach Galifianakis
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

In A Wrinkle in Time, it’s said that the art of “tessering,” essentially an interdimensional zipline through time and space, is “a matter of finding the right frequency.” Sadly, that’s a feat director Ava DuVernay fails to accomplish, as her adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle’s acclaimed 1962 science fantasy novel is a tonal and thematic mess. It’s a rotating series MS Windows screensavers, strung together by the labored delivery of leaden dialogue that intones hollow self-affirmations and mundane mantras ostensibly centered around love, insecurities, individuality, and whatever other YA hot topic springs to mind.

Middle-schooler Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is a nerdy, morose southern California teen, withdrawn from school and social life since her astrophysicist dad, Alex (Chris Pine), mysteriously vanished four years ago. Out of the blue, Meg and her adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are visited by a trio of astral travelers: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The three promise to teleport Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend Calvin (Levi Miller) across the universe to find Alex using a tesseract, a fifth-dimensional phenomenon explained as being similar to folding the fabric of space and time.

The questions instantly abound, most of them born out of the story’s slipshod attention to development and almost all of them never answered. Who is Calvin and why did he appear to tag along? Who are the Mrs. and how did they come about? Why is Alex being held captive (although not really), and why can’t the all-powerful Mrs. just retrieve Alex for Meg and Charles Wallace? What is the villain de jour, an embodiment of evil called the “IT,” where did it come from, and what exactly does it do?

Reid acquits herself well with her aching portrayal of teenage reclusion, armed with an opaque expression and far-off gaze. The rest of the cast ranges from inert (Miller) to grating (McCabe). Winfrey manages to exude a modicum of emotion and gravitas through her bedazzled makeup. Meanwhile, Whatsit is the sort of sprite Witherspoon would be perfect to play … 20 or so years ago. Both Witherspoon and Kaling’s quippy lines land like anvils, and their would-be whimsy is undercut by the curious lack of pace and timing in DuVernay’s direction and Spencer Averick’s editing. Indeed, blatant acute camera angles and editing tricks do little to camouflage the jarringly poor visual effects.

A Wrinkle in Time further suffers by excessive videlity to its source novel. While that may please fans of the book, the script plows through wholesale passages of lifted dialogue with almost dreary duty. Meanwhile, certain sequences—such as the cul-de-sac scene on Camazotz—are dropped in with little explanation about their relevance or place in the overall tableau.

One notable departure from the book is that most of its oft-analyzed Christian themes have been excised from the film. That may widen the movie’s potential reach. But without those religious references and accompanying philosophical underpinning, A Wrinkle in Time’s internal logic becomes muddled. Is the tesseract strictly a physical phenomenon, some ephemeral conduit for good and evil, or both? Is this joyride across the cosmos a journey to meet our maker, or just a bunch of meddlesome beings? Instead of learning about our place in the universe, Meg’s intergalactic journey turns into one big walkabout on the way to learning she could become the next Madam Curie or Maya Angelou. That’s great for Meg. For everyone else, this Wrinkle in Time leaves a furrowed brow.

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