I had to sit on my review for A Wrinkle In Time for a minute. After the initial press screening, I had very mixed feelings about the final theatrical version. I still do. I left the theater stunned by the visual delight that is A Wrinkle In Time but still wishing I’d gotten more story before it was all said and done. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Visually, everything about A Wrinkle In Time is just beautiful.
The dimensions and shape of the set design were so on point that, for one early sequence, I was sure I was looking at Meg in a dollhouse rather than her bedroom even in standard definition. The cinematography and art direction left me convinced I needed to see it again in IMAX and in 3D just to be sure I didn’t miss one frame of its vibrancy.
After seeing it again, I ran into a young black girl who’s a carbon copy of my odd, book-loving, math-obsessed, glasses-wearing, 12-year-old self. She told me she was going to be a Physicist. After a conversation that had me ready to see if I’ve had some eggs stolen at some point in the past; I realized something:
- This kid was either going to save us all and totally map the universe or she’d plunge us all into never-ending chaos and darkness with her as Overlord, and
- Going to the movies as an adult makes you jaded and greedy. We go to see movies with an expectation of being handed a complete story that doesn’t require any real suspension of belief or reality. We don’t expect to have to do anything; the film must come to us.
So I had to pause and check myself hard about a few things:
- This film may be family-friendly but it makes no attempt to cater to the adults in the audience as so many do these days. There’s no “second-layer” in the storyline, the dialogue, or the character dynamics. That’s a deliberate choice and one (of the few) things I wholeheartedly applaud about Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell’s screenplay.
- A Wrinkle in Time has an unapologetically weird story pacing; which any reader will tell you comes directly from the source material.
- The look and emotional feel of the juvenile characters are all age appropriate and authentic to a style of adventure storytelling not often employed in current films; particularly sci-fi adventures.
- The attention span kept in mind by the filmmakers, however, is not an adult one.
Synopsis: Led by three otherworldly guides, a young girl, her little brother and a friend are sent on a journey across the universe to find her missing physicist father. Her father managed to unlock a key to traveling across space but encountered an evil that trapped him and kept him from making it home. Leaving behind a mother struggling to hold it together for her children, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin must embrace the impossible in order to save her father and combat a force that wishes to spread evil across the universe.
A Wrinkle In Time’s Missing Pieces to the Main Characters
Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) Murray and Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) a schoolmate of Meg are the characters at the center of this space adventure. But the picture we get of these three is too incomplete.
Meg is the oldest child of scientists Alex and Kate Murray. She’s awkward, isolated, and combative with authority figures. She’s also something of an outcast.The film does an excellent job of driving home this point with school scenes that speak volumes (and may trigger a flashback or two in the adults). Meg is brilliant, a math prodigy in fact, but she doesn’t apply herself. Storm Reid’s portrayal of Meg is grounded. Perhaps too grounded. Some story elements blur together the reasons behind her behavior and other reasons are flat out missing. The audience needs to understand how Meg thinks better than it ultimately does. We need to know she’s brilliant before she embarks on her adventure. Not having a real understanding of Meg’s motives causes a few hiccups later in the story progression. It lessens the connection to this character which severely impacts the emotional pay off in the finale.
Charles Wallace (yes, he expects you to say both) is a genius. In the book, Charles is five. He’s been aged up in the movie but not a lot. Charles Wallace sees what’s there and what’s not. He knows things about the universe others only think may be true. But he’s still a child. He has no filter and rarely sees a reason to try to fit in with those around him. This version of Charles Wallace is missing that magical spark and ephemeral edge that helps you understand he sees and hears more than what’s going on in this reality. Charles is the connection between the here and now and the magical beyond. But you wouldn’t really understand that from this story. His magicalness is too buried. At the height of the film, it’s difficult to follow the shift in Charles Wallace’s behavior and how it relates to the “Big Bad” they’re facing. Had more time been spent early on establishing exactly how he is special, the second half of the second half would’ve had a greater impact and made more sense.
Calvin O’Keefe is one of the popular crowd. He has a crush on Meg and becomes entangled with her family to escape his terrible home life. Unfortunately, that’s all you get of Calvin in the film. Large portions of the story that showcases his importance to their mission and the skills he brings are all missing. Here, he’s around mostly for moral support and to further highlight Meg’s shyness and discomfort with attention. But other than that, he’s undeveloped.
Without some of the more magical elements front and center, the jumps through this timeline felt abrupt. I selfishly wanted to see more of my favorite parts of their space adventures on screen but I understand why the story required focus. So that’s a personal complaint that I can set aside. But, with the caliber of performances given by the entire cast, I truly believe had more time been dedicated to showcasing the true specialness of these children and the depth (and hilarity) of their relationship to the three celestial beings that enter their lives and turn it upside down, A Wrinkle In Time could’ve been absolutely transcendent. I was moved and enjoyed this film but the missing pieces made the story feel gutted and rushed in places which led to blunting the action at the pivotal points in the story.
This film felt like an executive summary. Interesting and containing all the needed information but essentially pointing you to the more in-depth explanations and examples in the source material. That’s not always a bad thing. The details behind it all is just a little too highlight reel-ish when it could’ve better mined its characters emotions. I left feeling like there were too many elements missing from the magical adventure they embark on across the universe especially for those unfamiliar with the book.
From all this you can read, I wasn’t completely a fan of the script anchoring Ava Duvernay’s otherwise excellent executed film.
A Wrinkle In Time is a reminder, that sometimes we just need to get out of our own way and enjoy. This film is far from perfect on many levels but where it succeeds it does so outstandingly. It was atmospheric when it needed, dark and gritty to the right degree, and humorous where required and emotionally grounded at all the right points. I just wish I felt like the full 2 hours truly traveled the universe.
Did any of this ruin the film for me? No. Was I engaged and entertained? Yes. Would I like to see more of Meg and this story? Absolutely. Did it make me wonder if there’s a version of this film out in the ether that has the tag “Director’s Cut?” You betcha. Will I buy it if I find out that’s true? In a heartbeat.
A Wrinkle In Time is a love letter to every little girl who ever walked into school alone. It’s a subtle reminder of a lesson so many refuse to learn: you can’t make someone grieve on your timeline. A Wrinkle In Time highlights many of the things that makes this Madeleine L’Engle series a lasting wonder on many a reading list and bookshelf.
Ava Duvernay’s direction and vision for A Wrinkle In Time lights a beacon for (black) girls to embrace their uniqueness and look within to find what fuels their magic.