For this glossy adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1962 children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, Disney drafted the supremely talented filmmaker Ava DuVernay, riding high off the double whammy of rousing Martin Luther King biopic Selma and searing prison doc 13th. Incredibly, this is the first time an African-American woman has directed a live-action blockbuster film with a budget exceeding $100 million. But as much as I want to champion this important milestone, this laudably well-meaning film about the importance of believing in oneself and female empowerment sadly fails to live up to its potential.
The story follows Meg Murry (Storm Reid), whose teenage life isn’t quite going to plan. Her scientist father (Chris Pine) disappeared without a trace four years ago, and the bullies at school won’t let her forget it. One day, Meg and her precocious adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are greeted by three magical strangers. There’s Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who can turn into a floating salad leaf when the fancy takes her; Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who infuriatingly communicates only through famous quotations, finishing them by stating the name of the author and their nationality; and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the skyscraper-tall and charisma-barren group leader who is frequently a dead ringer for RuPaul. They inform our heroes that daddy dearest got himself lost in another dimension while mucking about with quantum entanglement, and that they can help bring him back by “tessering” to another world under threat from an evil force called ‘The It’.
As you can tell from that description alone, it’s utterly bonkers. Disappointingly, instead of capitalising on the fantasy world’s bewitchingly bizarre potential as a filmmaker like Terry Gilliam might have done, DuVernay and screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell seem more interested in thickly layering life-affirming messages, whilst skipping from one disconnected set piece to the next, with little discernible effort made to universe-build in a coherent or entrancing manner. Granted, the colourful smorgasbord of special effects is at times very slick, and the fantastically-named Storm Reid does a great job as the leading lady, but the uber-earnest intent is articulated far too emphatically. For instance, you can glimpse posters of James Baldwin in the school, Mrs. Who quotes Lin-Manuel Miranda next to Shakespeare, Maya Angelou is name-checked, and there are cloying, New Agey lines like “love is the frequency”. It’s all meant with the best of intentions, but it yearns too transparently for of-the-moment relevancy, without the emotional heft to bring it home. The end result hangs together awkwardly, reminding you that a worthwhile and inspiring message alone does not a good film make.
A Wrinkle In Time | Directed by Ava DuVernay (US, 2018), with Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling. Starts April 5
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