Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast: Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine, Deric McCabe, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller
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Watching A Wrinkle in Time without all the weighty discourse that came with its theatrical release allows you to see the film’s attributes and flaws for themselves. At the time of its cinema debut, there was a sense of glee coming from morbid Twitterati folk as early word suggested that the film was less than exemplary. Such is the way with big budgeted, mega-hyped features; the camps had already pitched up their tents. Due to the clear wish to make the film a more inclusive and diverse project, A Wrinkle in Time had already become similar to 2016’s Ghostbusters; politicised, argued and judged before the (weak) box office had come through fully.
While it’s a pity that the first nine-digit feature helmed by an African-American woman didn’t make the same numbers as Black Panther (2018), it’s more of a shame that A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay, doesn’t hit home as much as one would like. It quite obviously has its set target audience, but in spite of its positive and thoughtful message, it never really gels. The spirited display by all involved means it’s far more watchable than it’s dubious 4.3 rating on the IMDB. But its bold colour palette and charming performances cannot outrun a wonky script, which has been trimmed of any real depth. DuVernay’s Selma (2014) showed that she is a filmmaker who can carry weight, but when it comes to Disney, it‘s a different ball game.
Frustratingly, all the elements are there for A Wrinkle in Time to be more than the sum of its parts. The plot deals with a troubled young girl named Meg (Storm Reid), who embarks on an intergalactic quest with her brother (Deric McCabe) and friend (Levi Miller) to find her missing scientist father (Chris Pine). She is guided by three astral beings (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling) who lead the children across space and time by tesseract. It is through these three beings that Meg is set to learn more about herself, as she searches the whereabouts of her father.
DuVernay, whose Twitter feed is often an inspirational beacon, tries to implement that same warmth here. There’s a clear message of black girl excellence put into play with the mixed-race Meg being a girl blessed with intelligent parents and clear knowledge that feels learned as opposed to gifted. When problems arise, Meg has an agency that is welcome when placed in comparison with similarly aged heroes in recent adventures. Meanwhile, DuVernay’s blocking, much like in Selma, often situates Meg central to the frame; DuVernay is seeking her main characters to take centre stage and frames them as such.
It is difficult, however, for Meg to be a true conduit in a plot that takes too long to get going, concludes when it looks set to really start and in which she has to interact with characters who have had any rough patches of interest sanded smooth. A family film doesn’t need obtuse complexities that will go over kids’ heads, but some detail into how these three astral beings came about could be beneficial. A Wrinkle in Time is one of those unfortunate fantasies in which things just happen with little amazement or awe and very little care upon joining the aspects together well enough to be absorbing.
The candy-coated visuals are eye-popping, while the adults still manage to provide emotive performances despite their character being reduced to one-note avatars, yet there‘s always a niggling feeling that certain scenes may have been shaved or shifted. One moment, a character named Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) advises Meg that she doesn’t want to be like him; “a weirdo living in a cave”. The sentiment makes sense, but it comes out of left field in a way that suggests details were left on the cutting room floor.
The film seems to be trying to run on the fact that it has a positive (and needed) message on identity politics, rather than showing a keen eye for adventure. However, it’s hard to be sour at the film’s aims. When an inspirational speech hits home, it warms the proverbial cockles. It’s clear that there was a lot of cynicism aimed at a movie that has very little and the small, telling moments that it gets right definitely highlight this. Like so many films of its ilk, it would not be surprising if the film wins positive appraisals from the audience that matters; if young girls find something inspiring within A Wrinkle in Time – and there’s enough in the performances, visuals, and parts of the film dialogue to suggest this – the film has most likely done its job.