UK Release Date: 23rd March 2018
Runtime: 109 minutes
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis
Synopsis: A young girl is taken on a mind-bending journey through different dimensions in an attempt to rescue her father from a dark entity.
Selma director Ava DuVernay has spent the last few years working on A Wrinkle in Time, which presented her with the daunting two-part challenge of adapting a children’s book that is utterly beloved in the US and becoming the first black woman to be handed more than $100m to make a movie. The resulting film has received critical notices that can charitably be described as mixed, with many reviewers taking the movie apart as a mega-budget disappointment. That undersells the movie, though, which is an occasionally spectacular tale with oodles of heart.
The mind-bending plot, which proves to be something of a nightmare to explain, centres on 13-year-old Meg (Storm Reid), who lives with her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), always referred to by that full name. Her scientist father (Chris Pine) disappeared years ago while carrying out experiments to do with exploring alternate dimensions. Meg and Charles Wallace are visited by a trio of oracle-like beings, played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey – with the latter magnified to an enormous size. They tell Meg that her father is alive and trapped in another dimension by a dark entity. Following this so far? Me neither.
With all of that plot to get through, DuVernay certainly cannot be faulted for her ambition in tackling A Wrinkle in Time. Every frame of her movie is filled with a self-conscious desire to be epic, as if the sheer scale of the story is too big to condense. The gaps are plugged with heart and, for the most part, this side of the film works. Storm Reid is a protagonist who is easy to root for and her relationship with the trio of celestial beings is compelling, helped by a fun performance from Reese Witherspoon as the peppy Mrs Whatsit. She certainly fares better than Mindy Kaling, who is bafflingly relegated to just reciting quotes, despite her known talent as a comedian.
The film also benefits from the fact that every penny of that widely publicised budget is obviously up there on the big screen. Some of the visual effects are simply stunning, with one sequence featuring a flying plant creature that is colourful and exhilarating in the best possible way. Equally visually striking is a strange moment of suburban mimicry and the most terrifying day at the beach since Jaws. Every time the muddled and uneven plotting threatens to rob the movie of momentum, DuVernay delivers another arresting image.
A Wrinkle in Time does have a horrible habit of being undone by its script. It’s more of a whistle-stop tour than a coherent plot and every other line of dialogue seems to either be a character shouting the name Charles Wallace – though Deric McCabe deserves credit for his willingness to go full Children of the Corn – or spouting some variation of a trite “believe in yourself” platitude. Most infuriating is that, despite its intriguing title, there’s no actual wrinkling of time here. It’s only space the story opts to bend.
For all of its flaws, A Wrinkle in Time has the straightforward heart and charm to work as a wildly ambitious family sci-fi. The difficult plot of the book is wrangled into a semi-coherent narrative, with the cracks papered over by the energy of the performances and frequent blasts of impressive visual invention. It’s far from perfect, and it almost certainly won’t be the best film Disney produces this year, but it definitely merits a cinema trip.
Pop or Poop?
It’s occasionally undone by a ropey script and a plot that simply doesn’t fit into the confines of a two-hour movie, but A Wrinkle in Time is an enjoyable and charming family adventure. Ava DuVernay brings an admirable visual ambition to what she is putting on the screen, with Storm Reid proving to be a compelling leading actress, alongside a roster of A-list supporting stars.
It has a tendency to crack and splinter under the weight of that ambition, but it has the visual panache to wow audiences, even if they aren’t always able to follow every moment of the plot.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.