Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time has all the pieces a studio could want when assembling a $100M blockbuster. A visionary filmmaker and immensely talented, big name cast come together to adapt a beloved novel. It offers a level of representation that is still too rare and desperately craved by moviegoers. Some of its strongest elements manage to come together for some beautiful moments, but they are too few and too far between, leading to an incomplete cinematic experience.
Directed by the extraordinary Ava DuVernay and based on the the Madeleine L’Engle novel of the same name, A Wrinkle in Time is the fantasy story of Meg Murry (Storm Reid) and her quest to find her missing father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine). Dr. Murry has been missing for four years after experimenting with interstellar travel by way of folding, or wrinkling, space. His disappearance has left Meg with unanswered questions that make her an almost too typical introverted, troubled, and picked on teen.
Fortunately, Storm Reid gives the most powerful performance in a film that also includes Oprah Winfrey, allowing her character to soar above the limitations of the screenplay.
Meg’s reality begins to shift when she, her mother (an underutilized Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are paid an evening visit by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) to get the story moving. Charles Wallace lets Mrs. Whatsit in without the knowledge of his mother or older sister because the boy is a super genius who understands everything that is about to happen. He’s basically coaching the other characters and the audience through a series of strange events.
Mrs. Whatsit gets things going by explaining to the Murrys that Alex’s theories about traveling through the universe were correct and that’s what he’s actually done. Whatsit then splits, so that Meg and Charles Wallace, joined by Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), can visit Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) the next day. Mrs. Who speaks in quotes that have nothing to do with anything because she’s evolved beyond having to use her own language (and yet has to borrow the words of theoretically less evolved humans). She’s no help.
Calvin is also little help. He’s crushing on Meg too hard throughout the movie. The camera lingers too long on his face multiple times as he compliments Meg and tells her how incredible she is. He’s not being inappropriate, but he does come across as a “Hey Girl” meme.
Mrs. Which (Winfrey) finally arrives to explain what the other Misses must have intentionally left out, so that the kids, with all the Misses, can travel through space to find Dr. Murry. Change of venue, however, is not always story progression and it isn’t in Wrinkle. The very first non-Earth planet is gorgeous and we get the wonderful magic leaf ride promised in the trailer, but it literally goes nowhere and contributes no new information to the search (despite the characters being pointed directly toward a clue that is supposed to be there).
This instead points to one of the biggest problems with Wrinkle. Big fantasy stories do not need to be realistic. Not at all, but they have to be grounded by the emotions of the characters and at least some sense of a consistent internal logic. Wrinkle mostly has the former, but makes no attempt at the latter. Almost every event feels like a matter of happenstance with no connection to what’s come before or what will come next. It doesn’t make the story confusing. It just makes it harder to care what’s going on because the stakes aren’t there.
The Misses, while adorned in spectacular costumes and played wonderfully by the actresses, are not given enough to say or do besides repeating some version of “love yourself for who you are, warts and all” to Meg. It’s a worthwhile message, to be sure, but there are ways to convey it beyond reciting the same feel good phrases over and over like everyone’s got the same pamphlet memorized.
Oprah was cast in this movie for a reason. I’d hope it was bigger than to simply have the audience say “That’s Oprah!” when she shows up, but save for one nice speech to Meg, Mrs. Which is not given as much to do as she should have been.
That which works in Wrinkle is primarily carried on the shoulders of Storm Reid. She is outstanding and gets far more out of this film than it ever offers her. Her performance is layered in a way that no one else’s is. She works through her almost terminal self-doubt to love herself not despite her flaws, but because of them, for they are as much a part of her as the smaller list of things she already felt she was doing right.
Reid’s Meg saves A Wrinkle in Time from being a complete misfire. She is a hero worthy of the affection of those in the audience who may look like her, and those who do not. If generations of kids can see the path to their own truth in Meg’s journey and learn to love themselves, even if it’s just a little more, then it will still be worth the bumpy trip.