Let me start out by saying, I haven’t read Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time, but have been ecstatic to see the movie, as it’s the first movie directed by a woman of color, Ava DuVernay, with a budget of over $100 million. Thanks for that Disney! Side note, this week is the first time ever that the #1 and #2 movies at the box office (Black Panther, and A Wrinkle in Time) were both directed by people of color; DuVernay passed on directing Marvel’s Black Panther. Fortunately, this film had more wrinkles to iron out, in terms of both storyline, and technical production.
The movie opens with Meg Murry’s scientist doctor disappearing to the cosmos amidst the adoption of her younger sibling, Charles Wallace. Charles Wallace is a know-it-all child prodigy who is cute but annoying; it’s like nails on a chalkboard by the end of the movie never hearing them call him anything but “Charles Wallace”, no Chuck, CW, Charlie, C-Wall, nothing. Life goes on, and everyone at school is mean to Meg, including the principal, discussing how her temperament has changed since her dad vanished. She’s timid and hits the popular girl in the face with a basketball and Charles Wallace comes to the rescue, cue embarrassment. We cut to home, and meet Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit, one of the three Mrs. Ws, who just shows up and starts about tesseracts working, and Dr. Murray being out there in the universe. Barely anything about the universe is explained, or the rules that govern them, aside from a brief intro to “tesseracts” (verb: tessering), which is how they travel across the universe. We meet the token love interest/sidekick while he just appears while on a walk and mentions something about being drawn to them at that moment. Charles Wallace seems to be the only person who knows what’s going on throughout the storyline, and his youthful acting essentially carries the movie.
The Mrs. Ws all appear in the backyard to take the kids tessering to find Dr. Murray; they are comprised of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Who (Oprah). Oprah is mainly seen as a 20 foot giant hologram, or in extreme closeups of her gem-laden eyebrows and glittery lips, that are beautiful. Guessing that was the only way she would do the movie. Mindy Kaling only speaks in quotes (everyone from Outkast to Lin-Manuel Miranda to Shakespeare). I was excited to see Kaling cast in this movie, but she was SO underutilized.
On the first planet, Urial, the kids are happy go lucky for a brief second. Reese Witherspoon promptly turns into a large lettuce leaf, as you do, and flies the kids around the planet. This is when we first meet “The IT”, the bad guy, who in the book is a large literal evil brain. In the movie, it feels kind of like the Upside Down in Stranger Things but reminded me of the black ooze in Little Nemo in Slumberland (1992). The IT seems to be all of your unhappy thoughts that take over and make you unsuccessful, but again, not a great explanation.
They then have no luck and Mrs. Whatit remembers they should go see a Seer, who just so happens to be Zach Galifianakis. They have a weird interaction as if they used to date. The whole scene provided some growth for Meg and Oprah, but was too silly for me.
Lastly, the group tessered to Camazotz and the Mrs Ws must depart with some wisdom. This planet feels very Wizard of Oz, tornado included. Meg is precocious and smart, but when Calvin asks her to explain velocity, they dumb her down by saying “it’s just a physics thing”, it’s as if Disney doesn’t think the audience is capable of understanding science. Camazotz gets really trippy, and we see cameos from Michael Peña and Bellamy Young. Eventually we get to where we’re going and find Dr. Murry inside the “Hotline Bling” video set. It seems like he’s been frozen there because he’s unaware of how much time has passed and his hair hasn’t grown in 4 years. The beloved Charles Wallace succumbs to The IT and turns into a demon. Eventually Meg finds her inner strength and saves the day and tessers back to her own backyard. Charles Wallace gets to meet his dad, Dr. Murry, for the first time, and happy tears are had by all.
What A Wrinkle in Time gets right: Diversity & Inspiration for its tween audience. Nearly every scene in the movie features people of color and doesn’t mention it. It feels like what real life should feel like, inclusion without patting yourself on the back for it. The movie also teaches tweens to trust themselves, and their faults, as well as accepting others despite their thoughts.
What A Wrinkle in Time gets wrong: The story has a great message of virtues and light vs dark, but the film does a terrible job explaining itself. The movie doesn’t trust the audience, the Mrs. Ws give the kids all of their direction, and they make almost zero decisions for themselves. The movie was far too ambitious for its own good.