Directed by Ava DuVernay
Written by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell
A podcast I listen to (Filmspotting), in response to the recent release of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, revealed their Top 5 Directors they’d like to see make a superhero movie. A Wrinkle in Time is not a superhero movie, but rather a Disney adaptation of a children’s book classic. I wonder, what would that list look like for that scenario? Who would we want to see direct a classic adaptation produced by Disney? Think of the possibilities! Certainly a pairing of Ava DuVernay, whose Selma and 13th announced her on the scene as a black, female director to watch, with something like A Wrinkle in Time would be a no doubter, blockbuster hit! Well, I’m here to tell you that the pairing turns out to be a major disappointment. Oh what could have been, yet turned out not to be!
Meg (Storm Reid) is a brilliant student, but of late her performance in the classroom and her overall demeanor has seriously deteriorated. He father, a NASA scientist (Chris Pine), has been missing for four years, so she sulks about despite the positivity of her kid brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and support of her loving mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is also a brilliant scientist. When Charles Wallace begins a strange friendship with women named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), things start to get strange. Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) then also appears, whisking the kids to another dimension in hopes of finding their long lost father, who she claims has sent a distress signal to their house.
As I said in the opening, this film had a lot of potential given DuVernay’s past success and the type of budget she would be working with for a film like this. And the film opens to be quite promising. DuVernay sprinkles in some nice references to black and female empowerment with a bulletin board in school featuring Maya Angelou, and another with famous African American Women, meanwhile when we meet Mrs. Whatsit for the first time, she is seen reading a book on Native American Women. All the signs are there, and the message of self-esteem and self-pride are there throughout, and are awesome. That is the center of this movie, this tale, and it works, it really does. I get it. And even Storm Reid, the young lead actress shows off some good acting chops in some of the early scenes. The problem here is that I keep saying ‘early scenes’. The good does not continue. In fact, it gets worse, much worse.
Once we are whisked away into the fantasy landscape of this film, things go a little too far off the rails. The visual effects look shoddy, which is supremely disappointing given the presumed budget of the film, and its relative dependence on said effects to create the world in which the story unfolds. And the cast does anything but shine. On more than one occasion I was left wondering what kind of takes they captured on set, because it felt like even the editor couldn’t mask some of the poor performances, or at the very least the awkward glances and character moments, which removed me from the experience immediately and had me cringing in my seat.
The plotting too takes some rather questionable leaps and bounds. I’ve never read the novel on which the film is based, but I have to imagine that many of the plot holes could be filled by such research. Worlds, characters and actions are introduced and take place with little warning or almost no explanation, leaving the viewer taking a leap of faith in believing that the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) and The Man with Red Eyes (Michael Pena) are somehow important to the forwarding of the plot, or that the Mrs.’s have some kind of connection to, well anything. Much of the film didn’t make sense to me, as close as I tried to pay attention. Instead it felt disjointed and half-baked, like the film could have greatly benefited from about 30 more minutes in order to fully flesh out characters and ideas before throwing them haphazardly against the canvas that is this movie and hoping they stick or somehow make sense.
I’d love to think there is a good movie in here somewhere, and I am somewhat convinced there is. After all, the message at the heart of the film is spectacular, and certainly worth mentioning and applauding. I love what DuVernay is trying to do here. I just also happen to hate what she actually does with it. It’s a strong message with a horrible movie around it. I so desperately wanted to love this movie, and perhaps my expectations adversely affected my ultimate reception of the film. But honestly, all I wanted to do was crawl under my seat and stop watching it for most of its run time.