Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Hindered by disjointed flow and a monotonous tone, the creatively ambitious 'A Wrinkle in Time' falls short of its worthy intentions.
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How we engage with works of art is oftentimes partly informed by the cultural and sociopolitical landscape we live in. Especially for certain pop-culture entertainments, like the recent, wildly successful blockbusters Wonder Woman and Black Panther, the lens of contemporary social discourse (around feminism and racism, for instance) is both an inevitable means of interpretation and a relevant one. The ambitious but flatly realized A Wrinkle in Time, from director Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th), is one such film that braves the topical struggles that surround it.

Adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless 1962 classic by Jeff Stockwell and Frozen’s acclaimed screenwriter Jennifer Lee, A Wrinkle in Time singlehandedly packs a number of film-industry rarities within its wide scope, defying the status quo: It’s helmed by an unapologetically risk-taking woman of color, led by a marvelously diverse, mostly female cast, and follows the coming-of-age adventures of a young black girl in charge of her own destiny. These refreshing-on-paper qualities elevate Wrinkle’s significancein the cultural sphere. If only the film itself weren’t so stiffly written and awkwardly paced. In noticeable need of a more fluid touch and a heightended sense of wonder, A Wrinkle in Time is an unfortunate case of noble intentions missing their target creatively, despite occasional flashes of skill.

Mirroring its source material, the eternal battle between good vs. evil and right vs. wrong is at the heart of DuVernay’s film. And in the enduring tradition of countless tales featuring a “chosen one,” it’s up to one misunderstood underdog to rise to the occasion. In Wrinkle, the honors belong to the young Meg Murry (a sturdy-beyond-her-years Storm Reid), a troubled early-teen misfit. Suffering the cruelty of bullies at her school, Meg lives with her scientist mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her fearless brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) in a house haunted by the memories of her father (Chris Pine), who mysteriously disappeared several years before while working to prove the existence of tessering: a break (or wrinkle, if you will) within the universe and time that enables traveling between planets.

The Murrys’ routine is disturbed one day by the arrival of bickering but sweet-natured Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), an ethereal being in human form who confirms the reality of this phenomenon. Soon joined by the wise Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who frequently quotes famous thinkers and artists (including Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda in a modern-day spin), a towering Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and their schoolmate Calvin (Levi Miller), Meg and Charles embark on an intergalactic voyage through a tesseract in search of their father.

With stopovers at the lush and colorful Uriel and the foggy Orion, their adventure transports them to various planets with distinct textures, looks and colors (thus, a range of production design needs). But it isn’t until the clan reaches Camazotz, the planet under the reign of an evil power called “IT,” that their voyage takes a dangerous turn. It is within Camazotz’s uncanny, treacherous settings—including an eerily overcrowded beach, a dark forest and an alarmingly uniform suburban neighborhood—that we see DuVernay’s capable handing of action and tension.

Outside of a few engaging scenes of the rising stakes at Camazotz, the CGI-heavy A Wrinkle in Time feels static and drifts monotonously without amplifying the bold rebellion at the core of its story. Some curious creative choices don’t help matters. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler’s camera insistently chases close-ups and reaction shots. This frequently distracting artistic decision does favors to neither the characters nor the heavy-handed work of the makeup artists. At certain moments, we desperately want to see the impressive scale of the production design and take in the rich costuming (by Paco Delgado) in a larger context. Instead, we find ourselves looking at makeup brushstrokes, detecting imperfections of glittery lipstick and severe eye shadow.

Despite all its issues, however, A Wrinkle in Time is a meaningful attempt at big-budget filmmaking that, for a change, casts its central hero as a black girl, while making her search for identity and purpose universally relevant. Even a shaky step in the right direction is worthy of note and demands the continued support of Hollywood to inspire and activate generations of underserved audiences. Let’s hope we are steadily approaching the day where likeminded films are the norm, and not an anomaly.

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