A Wrinkle in Time Is Uplifting, Unsteady, and Made for Kids

The most important thing to know about director Ava DuVernay’s
film adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time—the beloved
children’s sci-fi book about time travel, tesseracts, and a dog
named Fortinbras—is that it’s meant to appeal primarily to
children, with jokes and a few nods for their handlers
sprinkled in as an afterthought. This isn’t the type of
children’s movie that aims for maturity or cynicism in a way
that attracts adults; it’s one that compels you to do the
opposite and be a kid again, and your patience for such will
inform how much you enjoy it.

The story is more or less the same: Meg Murry (Storm Reid)
lives with her mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her brother
Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Absent from the movie’s
narrative are the book’s dastardly, rude twin brothers, Sandy
and Dennys, though their bullying and general rudeness seems to
be baked into a multicultural cast of mean girls who are just
one facet of Meg’s problems. Meg’s father, Alex (Chris Pine)
has been missing for four years and no one knows why. It turns
out that he traveled by tesseract—the titular wrinkle in
time—to another planet and has been held captive by the IT (not
the Information Technology department, nor the rude clown in
the gutters of Maine), and needs to be rescued.

Guiding Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend Calvin (Levi
Miller) are the three women whose faces have been splashed
across city buses, movie posters: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese
Witherspoon) has red hair, talks a lot, and does her best with
what she’s given—she’s zippy, sharp enough, and perky. Mrs.
Which (Mindy Kaling) wears a lot of jewel tones and speaks
mostly in quotations from Rumi, Shakespeare, Buddha, Lin-Manuel
Miranda, and Chris Tucker. The big Mrs. is Mrs. Who, played by
Oprah Winfrey, resplendent in sequined gowns and gorgeous
blonde wigs, who looms literally larger than life over the
motley crew, delivering Oprah-isms through glittered lips. They
look fantastic, but are introduced rather haphazardly—when it’s
time for the adventures to begin, Mrs. Whatsit plops down in
the backyard unceremoniously and alerts the children that it’s
time to go. We’re supposed to feel excited because this is the
heart of the movie, but without any real lead-up to this
adventure, it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm.

Onward the children go, tripping through the tesseract in a CGI
sequence that will make a lovely ride at Disneyland, and
falling head-first into various adventures and mishaps,
including a brief meeting with the Happy Medium (Zach
Galifinakis), whose lines are basically repackaged sentiments
from a yoga teacher, and the more evil and less helpful Red
(Michael Peña), who the children inexplicably encounter on an
extremely crowded beach. He’s wearing a loud short suit and
various bits of facial hair and manages to hypnotize the young
Charles Wallace into letting IT—elucidated in a montage as the
force responsible for shitty parents, disordered eating, and
low self-esteem—inhabit his body and use it for evil. Later on,
in her journey to find her father within the wrinkles of the
universe, there’s a fight sequence between Meg and what looks
to be the CGI root system of some massive tree.

While it’d be difficult to cram in everything L’Engle wrote
(Aunt Beast, I miss you dearly), presenting some sort of
framework for understanding the plot’s central motor—the
tesseract—would have made the plot less (sorry) wrinkled. The
physics of a tesseract are explained succinctly in the novel,
but the movie presents the theory as an inherent acceptance
without necessary explanation. This is the nature of children’s
books, fairytales, and fantasies—the unexplained happens in the
blink of an eye—but it leads to a rather uneven narrative.
DuVernay leans on CGI and good-natured, earnest platitudes
about being yourself and loving yourself in equal measure:
Reese Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit transforms herself into a
flying piece of decorative kale and takes the kids for a ride
five minutes before she tells Meg that her greatest strengths
are her faults.

Still, for its intended audience, it mostly works. Diversity,
sprinkled throughout the film with care, is intentional yet
feels natural. When Meg heads into the principal’s office for
throwing a basketball in the face of a Tina Fey-style Mean Girl
named Veronica, the camera lingers for a moment on her younger
brother, Charles Wallace, sitting with legs crossed, mirroring
the photo of James Baldwin hung directly to his left. Later,
when the children make it to Cazmatoz, the kids in the eerie
cul-de-sac bouncing their balls in hypnotic rhythm are not all
white. Meg is biracial, the child of Mbatha-Raw and Pine, and
her adopted brother is Filipino. It’s refreshing to see a movie
where attempts at diversity feel less like ticking boxes and
more like real life.

There’s a lot riding on the shoulders of DuVernay’s adaptation,
based on its pedigree alone: DuVernay, beloved director, a
black woman, taking on source material so rich that to do it
justice would likely blow the
$100 million budget
for this film out of the water.
Creating a faithful cinematic retelling of the story is a near
impossible task, so DuVernay did the next best thing, taking
the skin of L’Engle’s story and stretching it over a skeleton
made of CGI and the power of
Oprah’s lacefront eyebrows
. There’s no need to soften the
bad parts about it. The movie is thematically broad yet uneven,
visually stunning at times, and most of all presents a
clear-cut message of acceptance, love, and empowerment that
will certainly resonate with its intended audience: young girls
at their most
vulnerable age.
The proper viewing experience is one where
an adult leaves their cynicism outside and tries to experience
the movie as its own sort of time travel back to middle school,
high school, or whenever it was that the world felt the most

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