Director Ava DuVernay’s fourth feature film is based on the beloved children’s book of the same name. Debuting at a time where diverse directors are making their mark, “A Wrinkle in Time” comes to the screen on the heels of Disney’s groundbreaking “Black Panther.” DuVernay’s snub in the best director category for “Selma” a few years ago, actually had the same effect on her career as if she had gotten the Oscar nod. The world is watching to see if moviegoers will support her, and this $100 million film, the way they did Director Ryan Coogler. The difference is “Black Panther” was aimed at everyone, and already part of a lucrative franchise. “A Wrinkle in Time” is very specifically aimed at preteen females. The special effects are not as disastrous as they look in the trailer, yet nowhere near award-worthy.
Daughter to a pair of scientists who have devoted their lives to making contact with the universe, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) was the happiest of girls until her father (Chris Pine) disappeared. That was four years ago, and even the principal of her school encourages her to move on. Meg’s journey begins when little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a budding genius, invites a strange-looking stranger into their home. Using a form of magical teleportation, Meg and her brother are whisked away from Earth to a new planet with Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Together they search the universe for their father and grow to become warriors in the process.
What is often the case for films/stories of this nature, is that their intention to uplift, inspire and motivate, overtakes other elements required for success. The message of empowerment is so on the nose that adults are likely to walk away with bruises. Every sentence out of Winfrey’s glittery mouth sounds like something from a spiritual shaman. Cynics and adults without children, won’t be happy with the on-screen experience. The scene where Witherspoon’s character turns into a giant flying piece of lettuce is truly the low point narratively, structurally and visually. There are segments in the film where the children face The It, a dark mass of negativity floating in space, that might even be too frightening for children under age 7.
“A Wrinkle in Time” isn’t as cool as it’s pretending, despite an impressive performance from young lead Storm Reid (“12 Years a Slave”). Adaptations of beloved stories and novels are often difficult, because readers have already imagined the tale in their heads. There seems to be some difficulty translating what screenwriter Jenifer Lee has written (what the origin story demands) compared with what and how DuVernay brings the elements to the screen. This may be due to Lee’s relative inexperience writing for feature films, her screenwriting background has been in animated movies. There are moments that feel borrowed from “Fern Gully,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Alice in Wonderland;” none of those mixed together make for a very appealing experience.
Final Thought — Good intentions unfortunately don’t always result in a great film.