Word of mouth can make or break a film and (some) reviews have been less than kind about Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. Her earlier work has consisted of documentaries This is the Life (2008), and 13th (2016), indie drama I Will Follow (2010) and romance Middle of Nowhere (2012) before using the historical biopic to really make her mainstream mark with Selma (2014). Her current Netflix smash is the absolutely stunning mini-series When They See Us (2019). Aside from the occasional repeat casting (namely David Oyelowo who voices The It here) the commonality of these films is their setting deep within the African American experience – and this is only set to continue as Hollywood has the overhaul it so desperately needs, and the world gets to embrace the work of Barry Jenkins, Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele and DuVernay.
Tackling Madeleine L’Engles much loved children’s novel of the same name and deemed unfilmable (though attempted for TV in 2003), DuVernay brings it to the big screen – with a reported $100 million budget – amid fantastical imagery and visual effects (and some occasionally weak CGI), however, the themes it tackles feel particularly relatable and relevant regardless of the fifty-six year old story.
Meg (Storm Reid) is a social outcast at school, made all the weirder by her father’s disappearance four years previously. Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) in his search of travel via a Tessaract vanished without a trace leaving fellow physicist (and wife) Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to raise their children – Meg and her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) – alone. However, upon a visit from Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), encouragement from Mrs. Which (Mindy Kaling) albeit through inspirational guidance from Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Meg decides to take Charles Wallace and school pal Calvin (Levi Miller) and go look for her Dad and bring him back home if she can. She only needs to journey across time, space and several dimensions, and most importantly believe in herself.
Okay, so there’s little here that you haven’t seen in some form before – not least that television adaptation from 2003. There are some nice touches, Paco Delgados’ costumes for one and it certainly looks pretty, reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz/The Wiz. Definitely a personal preference but André Holland as Principal James Jenkins (a possible reference to activist/writer Baldwin and filmmaker Barry) isn’t in it nearly enough, nor Michael Peña (sporting splendiferous facial hair as Red). For all the lack of subtlety, it wears its heart on its sleeve – a very simple, powerful message at its core.
It seems a shame that Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell’s screenplay includes such heavy handed bombastic dialogue (along with some meandering camera work which can prove distracting), I’m sure its genus has likely come from the pages of the book but one wonders if small children would grasp some of the more complicated terminology. There’s little doubt that its scientifically viable, there was even a scientific advisor – Dr. Stephon Alexander – on set, but the film is so thematically broad that it ambles to a conclusion which feels more like the end of a series of visually impressive vignettes rather than one completed feature.
Much like that other big budget Disney production Black Panther, it takes its cues from the Afro-futurism genre, vibrant in colours and thematic similarities like the absentee father and embracing the warrior within. It is after all a Disney film so there are certain expectations. While it may not be to the taste of the adults, there’s plenty for children to enjoy not least the “greatest mind of our time” belonging to the squeaky voiced six-year-old Charles Wallace. Deep and meaningful monologues seek to empower the tween generation and why not? Love triumphs over evil, facing darkness can bring the light, a young person embraces their inner strength to rescue their missing parent… certainly plenty of films check this list, however, few of these young protagonists look like Storm Reid and Deric McCabe.
A Wrinkle in Time is nowhere near as dire as you may have been made to believe – despite its budget and subsequent box-office loss – the second half improves on the first, just suspend your disbelief a smidge more. A young girl who realises her strength, intellect, courage and beauty, ignores the bullies and believes in herself is to be celebrated.
Be a warrior.