A Wrinkle in Time Review: Disney's Latest Is a Colossal Disappointment
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Ava DuVernay's adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is a colossal disappointment. The classic science fiction novel by Madeleine L'Engle has been turned into a sappy melodrama; utterly devoid of mystery or wonder. DuVernay's approach to the story is to emphasize its outcast element. The result is a fire hose of gushing positive reinforcement for the bullied, angst ridden protagonist. It reminded me of Al Franken's famous SNL skit, "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley"; where he sits in front of a mirror saying, "You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like me". A Wrinkle in Time is essentially two hours of that, with Oprah Winfrey and special effects.
Storm Reid stars as Meg Murry, an awkward teenager who is constantly bullied at school. The source for her sorrow is the mysterious disappearance of her father (Chris Pine). He and her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) were NASA scientists working on "tessering", a way to travel in space by using your mind. Meg's consternation and doting love is her precocious, genius younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). He was an infant when their father vanished. Charles Wallace surprises Meg by introducing her to three strange women, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). They are ancient beings, the light of the universe, who need a "warrior" to rescue Meg's father from a dark force, the "It". Meg, Charles Wallace, and her schoolmate suitor Calvin (Levi Miller), join the missus on a universe traversing adventure.
The script by Jennifer Lee (Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) has female empowerment as the primary driver. Meg is a biracial girl, dealing with harassment, low self esteem, and negative body image. I can fully embrace the concept of her discovering self worth on the journey. This is also a major tenet of the novel. My problem is that it's overdone here. Ava DuVernay beats positivity in with a sledgehammer. Meg is constantly reminded that she's beautiful, important, and has fantastic hair. The message loses meaning. It becomes sentimental and overdramatic, drowning the science fiction elements of the story.
A Wrinkle in Time is filled with expensive visual effects that do not resonate. DuVernay's empowerment overreach sadly deflates wonder. The different worlds and creatures become afterthoughts to the mushiness. That is a tragedy, because the novel and its sequels were richly imaginative. A Wrinkle in Time is sorely in need of a different edit. This film could have worked if the darker sci-fi themes were more present. I am all for girl power. That's a message we need. It just needed to be dialed back to let other aspects of the film flourish.
A Wrinkle in Time is well meaning, but falls short on almost every front. The brightest spot for me was the performance of Deric McCabe. He is fantastic as Charles Wallace, perfectly cast for the role. Ava DuVernay (Selma,13th) misses badly here. The film is just too preachy. From Disney Pictures, A Wrinkle in Time is better enjoyed by reading the novel.