By Ryen Thomas
March 9, 2018
I grew up loving movies like The Wizard of Oz, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The Never- Ending Story, and Alice in Wonderland because they each took me away from a cynical world to one where you could believe in magic. Needless to say, after a load of recent dystopian fantasies, the hope and color in the trailer for A Wrinkle in Time allowed that wonder-filled kid in me to surge back to life. And with Ava Duvernay, the talented director of critically acclaimed films Selma and 13th, at the helm and with Frozen screenwriter Jennifer Lee masterminding the adaptation, what could go wrong?
After all this excitement, I left the theater caught off guard by my own disappointment. Wrinkle has good intentions to deliver a positive message of self-affirmation and hope, but the movie just doesn’t hit home. Instead, it’s all a sugar-coated surface.
How can a film with so much promise fall short? Was it because I didn’t read the classic 1962 source material by Madeleine L’Engle? Did I allow myself to get eaten up by the cynicism of our day and lose the ability to suspend disbelief like a child? To find the answer, let’s break it down and see if we can figure out what does and doesn’t work.
Oprah’s in it. Her name alone usually turns products to gold and the message of the film fits her brand to the utmost degree. She convincingly plays the leader of three celestial beings tasked with helping a young girl named Meg (Storm Reid) not only find her father in a wondrous realm, but also channel her inner warrior to conquer great evil.
Reid is a new star who shines bright in every scene. In one touching moment between Meg and her dad (Chris Pine) she and Pine deliver the film’s best performance. Pine has little screen time, but he makes every moment count. I was glad to see the diverse faces of Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling serving their parts (the story doesn’t allow them to do much more than that), but Oprah, Reid and Pine are the real stars here.
It’s no secret that the marketing for the film is riding off of how special it is to have a strong, young African American female as the protagonist. But what works in the actual movie is that it doesn’t remind us of the cast’s racial makeup in every scene. I’m black and, without question, seeing characters simply be who they are is an important statement on racial equality. But that message, which works for the film, also becomes its detriment and smothers the plot, leaving a film about a journey that goes nowhere.
Message Over Plot
Stuff just happens, including conflicts and character introductions, often without anyone (including Meg) questioning them. Characters show up and moments occur simply because the writer needed them to, I guess. Usually there’s at least one character who has the sense to ask questions like “Why are all of these amazing things happening to me?” But, no.
The same can be said about the lessons Meg learns. The celestial beings become life coaches that use vague Oprah-isms to help Meg solve her problems, which often works instantaneously. At one moment, Meg has trouble balancing on a treacherous rock path. Oprah tells her she needs to be more “centered.” Meg takes a breath and, viola, she’s balanced in the inside AND the outside. Good grief.
The film is a visual masterpiece but the world feels superficial and thinly populated. It’s hard to imagine yourself in that world because it’s hard to connect to and in the end it feels like a big simulation. The world doesn’t offer anything outside of beauty on the surface and that’s only because the CGI tell us it is beautiful and because that’s what the celestial beings tell us it represents. So many things are left unexplained.
In the movie, the face of evil and indifference manifests itself as a dark cloud referred to as the IT. Outside of a short montage showing apathetic humans on earth, we are not shown the connections between IT and the people. How does its evil power work? How long has it been corrupting? Why can’t the people save themselves? How does this magical world affect earth? Why and how is Meg the only one chosen for the task to conquer evil? I’m told that the book dives into Meg’s love of science but in the film it’s treated like a handy plot device to get Meg out of jams.
Because Wrinkle conjures up so many questions without diving deep enough to answer them, it’s no wonder that one feels hollow after watching the film. Saying the film doesn’t have to go deep because it’s for kids is a cop out. We’ve seen many great children’s movies accept that explanation.
The movie looks great and kids will have plenty to look at. My seven-year-old is the same I was when I fell in love with The Wizard of Oz. He saw Wrinkle with me and started talking about Black Panther within minutes of the lights coming on.
Star Rating: 2.5 out 5