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edge staff writer


‘A Wrinkle in Time’ not quite smooth

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Film’s flawed storytelling offset by vivid aesthetic, ideas

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from 21st century Hollywood, it’s that the adaptation of intellectual property is tricky business, albeit a potentially VERY lucrative one as well. Bringing beloved stories to life comes with pitfalls large and small; just a couple of tiny missteps can make the difference between lauded and laughable.

Madeline L’Engle’s iconic 1962 novel “A Wrinkle in Time” is one of the most beloved works of young adult literature of the past 50 years. It is a challenging, sprawling work of speculative fiction – one that has inspired and empowered generations of readers via its sense of grand adventure and even grander ideas. It’s an esoteric and interior novel in a lot of ways – not necessarily the ideal sort of narrative to try and translate to the big screen.

But Ava DuVernay went ahead and did it anyway.

Disney brought the acclaimed filmmaker in to helm this adaptation, tasking her with bringing to visual life a book that – by design – relied heavily on the imagination of the reader. The end result is a film that largely succeeds in capturing the spirit of the book both tonally and aesthetically, albeit with a bit of storytelling unevenness. Still, the pros outweigh the cons – it’s an emotionally engaging and entertaining family film.

Meg Murry (Storm Reid, “A Happening of Monumental Proportions”) is a brilliant teenager whose life was turned upside down by the abrupt disappearance of her physicist father (Chris Pine, “Wonder Woman”) four years ago. She mourns his loss, along with her microbiologist mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “The Cloverfield Paradox”) and her genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe, “Stephanie”); she’s lonely and sad, struggling both at school and at home.

But when a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, TV’s “Big Little Lies”) appears one night – apparently at Charles Wallace’s behest – Meg begins to learn more about the circumstances of her father’s disappearance. Mrs. Whatsit is an immortal being dedicated to serving the light of the universe, as are her compatriots. There’s the wise Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling, TV’s “The Mindy Project”), who dispenses her wisdom solely in the form of quotations (all properly attributed to boot). And then there’s the powerful and passionate Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey, “The Star”), the leader of the group.

These three have come to seek out Charles Wallace and Meg to let them know that their father’s disappearance is due to his breakthrough discovery – something called a “tesseract,” which allows for instantaneous travel across interstellar distance by way of folding space-time. He has become trapped somewhere out there; while the trio couldn’t track his cry for help to its source, they could find its destination – the Murry house on Earth.

And so, Meg and Charles Wallace – along with Meg’s classmate and generally good dude Calvin (Levi Miller, “Jasper Jones”) – are whisked away, traveling light-years from home in an effort to retrace the path taken their father and locate him, all while avoiding the sinister machinations of the dark and evil force known simply as the It.

However, as the journey progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that rather than avoiding the It, Meg and Charles Wallace are going to have to confront it head on if they’re to have any chance of saving Dr. Murry from an eternity trapped in the darkness – or of ever finding their way back home.

One also needs to address the larger cultural impact of “A Wrinkle in Time,” the first-ever blockbuster with a nine-figure budget to be helmed by a woman of color. DuVernay’s pioneering turn in this particular director’s chair is seminal and will likely lead to this film receiving even more scrutiny than it otherwise might have.

And does it hold up beneath that scrutiny? For the most part, I believe it does.

There’s a complexity of message in “A Wrinkle in Time” that you don’t often see in family-oriented fare; really addressing the concepts of good and evil in meaningful ways isn’t standard operating procedure for stories aimed at children. Here, it’s both black-and-white AND textured – there’s actual nuance here. There’s a thorough through-thread of self-actualization and empowerment here as well, one that will likely prove legitimately inspiring to young people – young women in particular.

However, the actual narrative leaves a little bit to be desired. The storytelling definitely gets muddy in places, mired in exposition that is sometimes both overly extensive and not informative enough. At times, the film can feel a little bit disjointed, tethered to big set pieces and CGI sequences in a way that doesn’t feel as smooth as one might hope.

Visually, it’s a lovely movie, with some striking aesthetic choices that belie DuVernay’s relative inexperience with filmmaking at this scale. There’s a confidence to the look of the film that is lovely to see; the entire run time is riddled with exquisite screen snapshots of vivid variety.

As to the performances, we’ll start with the three young actors at the movie’s heart. They’re excellent. Reid is particularly good; she has a natural soulfulness that allows her to serve as the film’s emotional fulcrum. Miller is charming and genuine, while McCabe emits a precociousness that epitomizes Charles Wallace. Witherspoon strikes the proper goofy tone as Mrs. Whatsit, while Kaling is quietly excellent (albeit sadly underutilized) as Mrs. Who. Oprah basically plays Mrs. Which as Giant Space Oprah, which actually kind of works. Pine and Mbatha-Raw – as well as other supporting players like Zach Galifinakis and Michael Pena – are generally fun to watch.

“A Wrinkle in Time” has some undeniable flaws. Even with those flaws, however, its overall importance cannot be overstated. Not only is it important that a woman of color like DuVernay was given the keys to such a massive undertaking, it is important that a story of youthful empowerment and imagination like this be told. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good.

And that’s good enough.

[4 out of 5]


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