A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay and based on the book by Madeleine L’Engle, follows young Meg (Storm Reid). Meg is an introverted and picked-on teen who still hasn’t come to terms with the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine), who left four years earlier in search of a grander meaning to the universe.
This pursuit is not a figurative one. Meg’s parents, once upon a time, were on the verge of using quantum entanglement to bend time and space and allow access to the farther reaches of the universe. Meg finds out the truth to this idea when her brother (Deric McCabe) brings home three “Missus” (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling), who are timeless creatures that can jump from place to place at will.
With the Missus as guides, Meg goes on a journey of discovery in attempts to find her missing father.
A Wrinkle in Time, to give it its due credit, is an ambitious film. The scope of this fantasy world is large and broad. DuVernay has a vision for this story world that we can, at times, see beautiful glimpses of.
However, for a story that jumps from planet to planet to propagate a sprawling quest, many of the sets come across flat. Settings that are meant to look artificial, as in when the personification of evil known as “The It” attempts to trick our young heroine and her cohorts, this flatness is used to effect. A sterile suburban street or an overcrowded beach look good with this disguise.
But other locales, like a lush planet populated by sentient flowers or a planet surfaced with craggy rock faces that houses Zach Galifianakis’ seer character, feel unnatural in their computer generated quality.
Other effects look awkward as well, like a giant Oprah—even so, the on-the-nose figurative quality of this image is not lost on anyone—or the physical manifestation of The It. There are also minor technical deficiencies that become all to obvious, such as simple continuity errors or the overuse of close-ups (perhaps to hide the production value of the computer generated backdrops).
Story elements, too, are not altogether fluid. Even if these flaws are hidden among the fantastical world and bouncing plot, the film’s lengthy climax and denouement will make it clear that certain character arcs are under-cooked. Not to mention that this final act beats you down with so many reunions and emotional catharses that it almost appears better suited as a farce.
In spite of all of these elements working against it, the film succeeds in a select key fields. The acting, for the most part, is serviceable for what the film is trying to achieve. Reid and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in particular, bring more structured performances to the film than the static Witherspoon or somewhat off-putting Galifianakis.
What A Wrinkle in Time has that makes it hard to relegate it to a rotten rating is its target audience. Children’s entertainment is so often rote and uninspired and lazy. Here we have a film aimed at children and young adults that does not insult their intelligence, gives them a story with a positive message, and shows an earnest drive towards creativity and originality.
This creative intent may not always yield the most brilliant or beautiful filmmaking, but there is still enough in A Wrinkle in Time to spark the imagination of young minds. That is a low bar not often surpassed in films geared for children. This film hurdles over that bar and attempts to jump even higher. One cannot discredit it for that.
A Wrinkle in Time: B-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)