A Wrinkle In Time | Episode 87.5

Posted March 8, 2018

-review by Chance Solem-Pfeifer

At my screening of A Wrinkle In Time this week, Ava DuVernay appeared in a clip beforehand to offer a couple words. It was a fairly standard intro. DuVernay asserted her intention in adapting this 1962 YA novel for Disney was to return to a place of childhood wonderment circa age 11 or 12. But then she repeated that age range, this time asking the audience to mentally wind back the clock as well: less sharing, more of a quiet command. That's practical advice it turns out — like if the Safdie Brothers gave a PSA before Good Time strongly advising the audience against drinking coffee right before the movie — because A Wrinkle in Time wields sincerity as a holistic, unapologetic force.

If you haven’t a read A Wrinkle In Time (it’d been since 6th grade for me, and I only remembered the kids were geniuses and that the word “tesseract” came up), it’s about a girl’s mission to rescue her dimension-hopping father (Chris Pine) from a demonic corner of the universe. The girl, Meg Murray (Storm Reid), is coaxed into this rescue mission by her wunderkind little brother, Charles Wallace, and three, let’s call them “glam knowledge-warriors,” played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. The larger, cosmic motivation for Meg embarking on this quest is muddled on a plot level but crystal clear on a character level. And that split that defines this whole movie. What DuVernay yada-yadas with constant references to “light, dark, love, and evil,” she communicates with inspired empathy through Meg.

The Selma director’s humane vision shines from the jump. In the opening scene of eight-year-old Meg in her parents’ laboratory, the camera weaves through the adults’ movement from Meg’s perspective but then quickly finds her in the middle of their embraces, their questions, their lessons. The same visual principle applies four years later when Meg is depicted as an island during gym class. Her father has been missing since that earlier scene, and her peers move wildly and unwittingly around her as though her personal gravity has weakened and warped. Here, Reid’s performance as a child carrying trauma is remarkable for its understatement. She never overtalks or rationalizes. At this point in her journey, she’s incurious; that way lies pain. The precariousness of her age is fascinating, as Wrinkle In Time marks the uncommon children’s movie rooting for its protagonist not to grow up. Adulthood means being quiet and realistic, and the quickly evaporating hope that her father is alive is the only thing keeping her attached to her youth.

With the aid of the … am I still calling them “glam knowledge-warriors”? … Meg slowly sheds her doubts and penchant for freezing in big moments, and Reid creates a character payoff few preteen actors can. Most notably, a waterworks meeting between Meg and her father plays a bit like the “I’m sorry” scene in Good Will Hunting — a gradual breakdown into pure, thoughtless catharsis. And of course, we should recognize the commentary here specifically on a black girl being able to reclaim and extend her childhood when the world doesn’t believe her pain, when it’s constantly treating her like she’s older than she is.

Irony simply doesn’t exist in the film’s lexicon. Any cynicism you’re holding between your ears going in could well make you feel uncomfortable during this nakedly inspirational ballad of a fantasy movie. Now, if this seems like a distinction that could bog down any discussion of an adult reviewing a children’s movie, then I’m not describing it well enough. Irony, after all, is a fixture in films aimed at kids. Pixar movies are notorious and lauded for their self-awareness, for their clever winks at the parents in the theater. Think about the litany of children’s film characters whose job it is to be snide until they’re convinced of some higher purpose. A film that rings out like one long, luminous pep talk is far rarer. “Love is the frequency,” DuVernay’s films offers at one point, seemingly of its own central emotional choice. Think about the bodies of work we have from DuVernay and co-stars Oprah and Chris Pine — these are creative people for whom earnestness is the vehicle, the journey, and the destination.

Now again, if you’re looking for a thoughtful metaphor about existence to unfurl amid all the world building and bending (a la Annihilation), it won’t happen. Why there would be a centralized cobweb of evil — “the It” — in a universe with its essence spread throughout every fiber of every being, I do not know. Why Chris Pine is trapped in the bad place to begin with I do not know. Why the odyssey of tricksters and advisors on Meg’s journey ceases at, like, 1.5 is another shortfalling. Building to its climax, the movie devolves into a scenario we’ve seen 100 times before. Meg is stuck in a manifestation of hell trying to win an important ally back from the brink of corruption. It’s the end of Revenge of the Sith; it’s the end of Return of the King. At the same time, DuVernay’s well of ideas dries up as the movie darkens. The vivid, fluorescent, constantly shape-shifting goddesses are a vision uniquely hers, and Mindy Kaling’s Mrs. Who speaking only in quotes from art is a charming bit. Conversely, “the It” is indistinguishable from any other disembodied evil force native to YA novels.

But listen, if what passes for top-dollar children’s films today is Disney calculatingly remaking its whole catalog of animated classics as uncanny spectacles full of famous voices, A Wrinkle In Time’s nobility shows even further. If commitment to emotion and its evolution through a protagonist can be considered a kind of craft, A Wrinkle in Time prods and prods at the cynics in the audience until a tear, a silent fist-pump, or some kind of “uncle.” I’m just not sure I’d return to this corner of the universe again. Let’s say Good-Bad.


All The Movies We've Reviewed

101 Dalmatians
10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Things I Hate About You
127 Hours
22 Jump Street
47 Meters Down
Across The Universe
A Dangerous Method
A Few Good Men
Air Force One
A League of Their Own
Alien 3
Alien: Covenant
Alien: Resurrection
American Animals
American Hustle
American Made
American Psycho
American Splendor
A Simple Plan
A Single Man
A Star Is Born
Atomic Blonde
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Baby Driver
Baby Mama
Bad Company
Bad Lieutenant
Bad Moms
Bad Santa
Basic Instinct
Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Beasts of No Nation
Beauty And The Beast
Before Sunrise
Behind Enemy Lines
Black Hawk Down
Black Mass
Black Panther
Blade Runner 2049
Bleed For This
Body Heat
Boogie Nights
Bridge of Spies
Bull Durham
Call Me By Your Name
Captain Fantastic
Catch Me If You Can
Chariots Of Fire
Chasing Amy
Child's Play
Christmas Vacation
Cinderella Man
Con Air
Cool Runnings
Crazy Rich Asians
Crimson Tide
Danny Collins
Dante's Peak
Dead Poets Society
Deep Blue Sea
Deep Impact
Deja Vu
Demolition Man
Dirty Dancing
Donnie Brasco
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
Dude, Where's My Car?
Easy A
Eddie The Eagle
Ed Wood
Employee of the Month
Erin Brockovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Event Horizon
Everybody Wants Some!!
Executive Decision
Ex Machina
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Fatal Attraction
Field Of Dreams
Finding Forrester
For Love Of The Game
Friday Night Lights
Game Night
Gangs of New York
Garden State
Gone Girl
Gone In Sixty Seconds
Grosse Pointe Blank
Hail, Caesar!
Half Baked
Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
Head of State
He Got Game
Hocus Pocus
Hollywood Ending
Hot Tub Time Machine
How High
Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Ingrid Goes West
Inherent Vice
Inside Man
Inside Out
In The Land Of Women
In The Line of Fire
Into The Wild
I, Tonya
Jaws: The Revenge
John Wick
Jurassic Park III
Jurassic World
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Kill Bill, Vol. 1
King Cobra
Kingdom Of Heaven
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Lady Bird
La La Land
Leave No Trace
Less Than Zero
Lethal Weapon
Little Miss Sunshine
Love & Mercy
Love, Simon
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mamma Mia
Matchstick Men
Midnight Special
Million Dollar Arm
Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Mississippi Grind
Mo' Better Blues
Mom and Dad
Money For Nothing
Moonrise Kingdom
Mr. Mom
Murder at 1600
My Cousin Vinny
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Never Say Never
Ocean's Twelve
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One Hour Photo
Open Water
Orange County
Out of Africa
Part of Me
Peter's Friends
Phantom Thread
Picture Perfect
Practical Magic
Public Enemies
Purple Rain
Raising Arizona
Red Dragon
Red Eye
Red Sparrow
Remember The Titans
Reversal Of Fortune
Rock Of Ages
Run All Night
Save The Last Dance
School Ties
Scream 2
Simply Complicated
Sleepaway Camp
Small Soldiers
Snakes On A Plane
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Southside With You
Space Jam
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
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Sweet Home Alabama
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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The Big Sick
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The Cell
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The Color of Money
The Disaster Artist
The End of the Tour
The Family Man
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The Fighter
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The Fly
The Fog
The Fugitive
The Fundamentals of Caring
The Hateful Eight
The Hate U Give
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The Hours
The Hunt For Red October
The Illusionist
The Indian In The Cupboard
The Insider
The Judge
The Jungle Book
The Last of the Mohicans
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The Martian
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The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Meg
The Mexican
The Mighty Ducks
The Mission
The Mosquito Coast
The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Natural
The Negotiator
The Nice Guys
The Night Before
The Pagemaster
The Perfect Storm
The Poseidon Adventure
The Prestige
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The Recruit
The Revenant
The River Wild
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The Rules of Attraction
The Shadow
The Shallows
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The Social Network
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The Thing
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The Watch
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This Is Where I Leave You
¬°Three Amigos!
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Tropic Thunder
Van Wilder
Varsity Blues
V For Vendetta
Welcome To Me
While You Were Sleeping
White House Down
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Wild Things
Wild Wild West
Win It All
Without A Paddle
Wyatt Earp
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