When the original source material is considered to be unfilmable, it’s easy to see that director Ava Duvernay was gambling big on her attempt at a film adaptation of the beloved novel. But was it worth the risk? Well, yes and no. But one thing is certain: It’s the thought that counts.
Based on the 1962 Madeleine L’Engle novel of the same name, “A Wrinkle in Time” follows a young genius named Meg Murry (Storm Reid) after her father, Alex Murry (Chris Pine), goes missing 4 years prior.
But after learning from three astral beings, simply known as Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), that her father is alive and held captive by a great evil, she must journey across the universe with her little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and fellow companion Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) to save him.
Much like the novel, there’s a lot put forward into the overarching narrative. In many ways these elements felt ethereal, whimsical and filled with wonder. Whether it’s the breathtaking cinematography, eye-popping visuals, vast landscapes and planets, or even the diverse range of creatures, it’s evident that Duvernay has a talent of capturing the essence of the novel and making you feel like a child again. She brings to life messages and concepts that can resonate on an emotional level with younger audiences on a number of occasions.
This resonance is further exemplified by the best part of the film: The performances. Storm Reid is by far the central aspect that brings the film together and makes it that much more of an enjoyable, enchanting experience as Meg Murry. Headstrong and steadfast like a role model while also vulnerable, awkward and insecure like any other teenager, Reid’s performance emphasizes her character’s relatability with younger audiences and provide more depth to her character’s overall story arc, allowing her to be the standout actress in the film, which is impressive considering the film also has the experienced talents of Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, and Oprah Winfrey.
Speaking of which, the rest of the supporting cast does an admirable job giving life to their characters as well. Winfrey, Witherspoon, and Kaling are clearly having a blast playing Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who respectively, and as a result, all of them give admirable performances, with Witherspoon being the standout of the trio. A lot of credit should also be given to Chris Pine continues to evolve as an actor, increasing his diversity of works and broadening his horizons. He gives one of the more emotional performances of the film, and his relationship with Storm Reid is the most well-crafted emotional story point of the entire narrative.
However, despite many of these noteworthy accomplishments, there are also a number of story and character flaws that do hinder the film in a number of ways. Notably, while many of the concepts presented are fascinating and, in many respects, enlightening, there are many instances where these instances fail to bring nuance and subtlety to the story, resulting a story brimming with forceful, often clumsy dialogue and story threads that seem to veer off course from the story at hand. There are also a number of story points that feel like they’re missing some information. It’s as if the audience is introduced to a new story point or concept in the narrative and they seemed to have missed a step prior in order to get to that point. There are times like that where there are chunks of story or information that are missing from the narrative and, because of that, the story feels incomplete and incoherent, resulting in the audience not completely attaching themselves to the entirety of the journey presented on-screen.
Some of the character work is also less-than-stellar. Even though the trio of Kaling, Witherspoon, and Winfrey put in great work as the ethereal trio, and they started out as relatively interesting and engaging characters, their overall purpose in the film seems to dwindle since as the film progresses, their presence becomes less and less necessary. But the most notably prevalent issue in the characters is the inclusion of Meg’s friend Calvin. Without any sort of exaggeration, if the character of Calvin were to be removed from the final cut of the film, there would be nothing in the story that would change. His inclusion, and even the way in which he’s introduced, feels forced, contrived, and completely unnecessary.
But despite these notably, and often prevalent, flaws and hindrances, it’s important that everyone see this film regardless because of what Ava Duvernay was able to put onto the big screen. It’s important to note that Duvernay was able to accomplish so much in terms of the visuals, the concepts, and the heart and passion put into the characters and visual aesthetic of the film as a whole. It’s worth mentioning that Duvernay made the decision to change the character of Meg Murry from a white character in the novel to a biracial character instead. The fact that she was able to make a change like this, as well as incorporate a number of different actors and actresses of different races and ethnicities clearly shows the love she put into the project.
Overall, “A Wrinkle in Time” is a gorgeously rendered and admirably acted journey across the stars that bring to life a sense of enchantment and whimsical wonder. Even though Ava Duvernay never fully sticks the landing on a number of occasions, she should nevertheless be hailed and admired for making such an ambitious, bold, risky film that meant to make children happy and relay powerful messages of family and love. There are still a number of notably character problems and plenty of messy and contrived storytelling, especially in the third act.
Even though there are enough problems in the story and characters to consider the film a disappointment, they aren’t enough to hinder my overall enjoyment of the experience, and I think that’s what matters.