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A Wrinkle in Time (2018) Movie Review

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) movie poster A Wrinkle in Time

Theatrical Release: March 9, 2018 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Ava DuVernay / Writers: Madeline L'Engle (novel); Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell

Cast: Storm Reid (Meg Murry), Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which), Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit), Mindy Kaling (Ms. Who), Levi Miller (Calvin O'Keefe), Deric McCabe (Charles Wallace Murry), Chris Pine (Dr. Alexander Murry), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Dr. Kate Murry), Zach Galifianakis (Happy Medium), Michael Peña (Red), André Holland (Principal Jenkins), Rowan Blanchard (Veronica Kiley), Bellamy Young (Camazotz Woman), David Oyelowo (voice of The It), Conrad Roberts (Elegant Man), Yvette Cason, Will McCormack (Mr. Teacher)


Long before Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was a favorite among young adult readers seeking imaginative and fantastical thrills. Published in 1962, the novel didn't have obvious film potential. Back then, it didn't comfortably fit in with any of the animated fairy tales and live-action comedies and dramas Walt Disney was making.
And of course, visual effects had a long way to go before being able to do justice to the visions conjured in L'Engle's text.

Jump ahead half a century and it's kind of surprising that we're only now getting a feature filming. This new A Wrinkle in Time from Disney shouldn't be confused with the same company's 2004 ABC TV movie, which was an oddity on the small screen at a time when Disney was already in pre-production with Walden Media trying to rival the success of the Harry Potter movies with The Chronicles of Narnia. The made-for-TV Wrinkle was delayed for years and broadcast to a small weeknight audience. If it was to become the stuff of unforgettable childhood memories the way that Wonderful World of Disney TV movies like Mr. Boogedy and Child of Glass were in decades past, we'd probably already know.

So there are no comparions to draw or expectations to meet with regards to the previous adaptation. The new Wrinkle can be judged on its own merits...but will also inevitably be compared to other modern big-budget fantasies like everything I've already referenced here and more. With a $103 million budget and the early March timing Disney has assigned to blockbusters like Oz the Great and Powerful, Cinderella (2015), and Alice in Wonderland (2010), Wrinkle can't just be a pleasant little sleeper like Bridge to Terabithia. It has to be huge, which is true of most of the few movies Disney puts out these days through its various titanic brands.

Meg (Storm Reid), Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and Calvin (Levi Miller) get transported from a suburban daymare to a colorful beach in Disney's "A Wrinkle in Time."

All of this makes Wrinkle more than a little disappointing. This is a mess of a film, something more flawed than anything Disney has recently put out that wasn't a Johnny Depp sequel (and maybe even more than those). Adapted by Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph) and Jeff Stockwell (the aforementioned Terabithia), the film opens with wide-eyed scientist Dr. Alexander Murry (Chris Pine, sporting an authentic salt and pepper beard) talking about the exciting things he believes that he can unlock. He also welcomes a new baby to the family. Then he disappears. We jump ahead four years and find the scientist is still missing. His daughter, Meg (Storm Reid), is bullied at school. Her adopted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is subjected to gossip from teachers.

One night, a colorfully dressed oddball named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, never worse) crashes the Murry household, to the concern of Mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She leaves, but she's not gone and before long, she is but one of three magical "Misses" (the other two are played by Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey) guiding Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg's love interest Calvin (Pan's Levi Miller) on an epic adventure to find Dr. Murry. Along the way, the group visits a cave where Zach Galifianakis mostly eschews comedy as a sage character called Happy Medium. There are also flowers that can fly and talk, a brief stop to a suburban daymare where kids bounce balls in sync, a beach with a dubious well-wisher named Red (Michael Peña), and a big noisy climax where Meg keeps getting Wrapped up in tree branches while Charles Wallace goes psycho.

The trailer for Wrinkle declared Ava DuVernay a "visionary director" and that seemed premature based on her handful of directing credits (most notably, the 2014 Best Picture nominee Selma) following ten years of working in publicity. Now the claim seems laughable, based on how miscalculated and unsatisfying DuVernay's first big budget effort is.

A normal-sized Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) stands in support next to Meg (Storm Reid) as they consult the cave sage Happy Medium.

Wrinkle doesn't get anything right. The acting, something universally praised in Selma, is beyond spotty here. Not one role seems properly cast for any cause other than diversity. Ordinarily charming actors like Kaling, Witherspoon, and Galifianakis are obnoxious. Winfrey is treated like some acting deity (literally towering over her fellow Misses for a good chunk of the film) which doesn't align with the reality of her legacy. If Selma could be accused of being not cinematic enough (Quentin Tarantino famously said it should have won an Emmy),
Wrinkle can be charged with being overly cinematic in hollow ways. DuVernay overdirects consistently, going big all of the time (and not just because my screening was in an actual IMAX theater), which makes the small emotional moments feel false. The whole thing is lathered in music that rarely suits the moment.

Wrinkle underwhelms regularly both visually and narratively and that combination drains any interest you have, making the under two-hour production feel like two and a half hours at least. DuVernay doesn't seem to have any passion for serving the project or doing it justice. Her primary interest seems to be in race (a non-factor in the book), with the film taking pains to linger on the African-American Meg's hair and the plights of minor black characters (a principal and someone credited as "The Elegant Man") that don't seem to have any narrative relevance, while also fitting in shout-outs to Maya Angelou. Minor subplots regarding the troubled home lives of Calvin and Meg's snooty schoolyard tormentor (Rowan Blanchard) are barely even developed enough to mention and fail to add any weight to a story that doesn't even engage with standard dark/light good/bad tropes.

Wrinkle wants so desperately to be celebrated for positive representation and encouraging messages that it never even seems to notice that it's not in the slightest bit any fun. There's a stark contrast between this and the movie I saw a night earlier, Love, Simon, which manages to be an agreeably entertaining teen dramedy while still breaking new ground and putting a spotlight on long-marginalized minorities. Had I seen Wrinkle when it was originally scheduled, a day before Love, Simon, this wouldn't have stood out. A blizzard resulted in the cancellation and rescheduling of Wrinkle to two nights later. But no matter when you see it and no matter what (if anything) you feel about the source text, this Wrinkle is most likely to disappoint you in a rare and profound way.

Related Reviews:
A Wrinkle in Time (2004)
Directed by Ava DuVernay: Selma | From the Writers: FrozenWreck-It RalphZootopiaBridge to Terabithia
Live-Action Disney Movies: Oz the Great and PowerfulBeauty and the Beast (2017) • The BFGCinderella (2015) • Pete's Dragon (2016)
Chris Pine: Wonder WomanThe Princess Diaries 2: Royal EngagementInto the Woods | Oprah Winfrey: Lee Daniels' The Butler
Levi Miller: Pan | Reese Witherspoon: The Good LieSweet Home Alabama | Zach Galifianakis: G-Force
The Hunger Games: 4-Movie Collection

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Reviewed March 9, 2018.

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