Adolescence can be a troubling and challenging time and Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle’s novel A Wrinkle In Time was made not just with kids in mind, but with 8-12-year-olds as the film’s intended audience. It is DuVernay’s love letter to children and the wonder and magic of childhood.
The film follows Storm Reid’s Meg Murry; a troubled young lady reeling from her father’s four-year-long disappearance. Angry and bullied, Meg only finds solace in her younger brother, the hilarious and precocious Charles Wallace – portrayed wonderfully by newcomer Deric McCabe. On the verge of retreating into herself entirely, Charles Wallace introduces Meg to Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). These three warriors of light help guide Meg on her journey to the center of the universe not only to find her father but to discover just what she's capable of.
Gorgeously shot, A Wrinkle In Time places a young black girl at the center, something rarely seen in mainstream films, highlighting why this type of representation continues to be so necessary. Reid is phenomenal as Meg, holding her own in a cast full of acclaimed veteran actors. Through Meg, DuVernay perfectly captures the various nuances of adolescence and all of the emotions that are wrapped within it. Though the film is a feast for the eyes, except for the odd choice of sometimes displaying Winfrey’s Ms. Which as a mega-sized monstrosity, A Wrinkle In Time, in certain parts, seems at war with itself. A jarring script and an uneven tone muddle down Wrinkle's message at certain points. DuVernay is careful to pay homage to the uncertainty of our teens years, with all of the self-depreciation and uncertainties that come with it. However, A Wrinkle In Time’s Disneyfied stamp, which includes a burgeoning adolescent romance between our protagonist and her classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), felt forced and out of place. In fact, when comparing the first and second act, Wrinkle felt like two entirely different films mashed into one.
Considering screenwriters Jeff Stockwell and Jennifer Lee’s past works which have included everything from Frozen to Bridge to Terabithia, it's clear that something just didn’t curl over all the way for them when it came to adapting L'Engle’s whimsical novel. Getting a narrative on the screen that includes a tesseract — literally wrinkling time and The It, the beginning of all evil in the universe — would have been more successful had the film relied on more imagery than it did on dialogue.
Stockwell, Lee, and DuVernay do succeed at capturing familial relationships beautifully. In Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine's performance as Meg's parents, we witness strong bonds between attentive and loving parents and their children. Wrinkle also conveys the chaotic lives of siblings whose relationships can shift from love to envy and hatred in one beat. Still, away from earth, out in the universe and on the planet of Kubrickian those relationships no longer stand at the center, and the film stumbles.
And yet, where the tone falters, the performances in A Wrinkle in Time keep the film elevated. Reid is a strong and compelling actor. Other standouts here are Witherspoon, an underused Mbatha-Raw, and 9-year-old McCabe whom we should all strive to be like when we grow up. Zach Galifianakis and André Holland also shine in their respective cameos while Kaling unfortunately, is given only a scrap of dialogue.
DuVernay is the first Black women to direct a $100 million movie, and when we consider the visuals, special effects, cast, and the costuming in A Wrinkle In Time, this was money well spent. However, it remains to be seen if this was the right story to get behind. With DuVernay at the helm and a stellar cast, A Wrinkle In Time should be magnificent all around, but the end result was a beautiful but bumpy ride for both Meg and the audience.
In the end, despite the film's shakiness, DuVernay’s message comes across for young women across the world. It’s one of strength, perseverance, and having the gumption to be your own hero. With everything that’s going on in the world right now, films like A Wrinkle In Time suggest that while the rest of us might be floundering, the kids are going to be alright.
A Wrinkle in Time hits theaters on Friday, Mach 9th.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami