Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenplay: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Storm Reid, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller
Runtime: 109 Minutes
The best-known work by Madeleine L'Engle, the 1962 young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time is a foundational work of new age science fiction and a text that couldn’t be more at odds with the current state of mind of the genre, especially in the field of blockbusters. It’s a wild piece of mind-expanding storytelling where the initial simplicity of its premise, wherein thirteen-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) and friends are sent on an intergalactic adventure by three cosmic travellers to rescue her missing father Alex (Chris Pine), gives way to its larger emotions and themes involving self-esteem, self-actualisation and ultimately the acceptance of one’s own faults.
It's all very metaphorical. Metaphor and signifiers being the leading light of its storytelling, with literal titles of characters made up of simple phrases such as The Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), or the all-consuming evil entity of darkness destroying the known universe being referred to only as 'The IT'.
The darkness it speaks of being the negative emotions that can override us on a daily basis. The film's more poignant moments are where it reminds us of the hidden sadnesses that we all might conceal behind closed doors, that which feeds the external negativity that we express to one another. The final stretch in which Meg has to overcome her insecurities and self-doubt - given further poignancy by her race bending from the novel and a broad reconceptualising of the meaning of IT from its cultural significance of the time - are what this is all building to and it hits the mark when it needs to in a refreshingly grounded final battle.
This is also one of the key points where the film is undoubtedly going to lose some of its older audience. Fans of hard science fiction - or even rational science fiction - are going to struggle to swallow much of its new age conception of the metaphysical. Such as love not being just an emotion, but a quantifiable force capable of tearing holes in reality and allowing space travel. Who knew love had a frequency?
The other problem at hand is sadly down to director Ava DuVernay. As admirable as her attempt is to create a film in the science fiction genre that looks quite unlike anything currently around, it's only half a battle being fought with the screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell. It really is beautiful at points with a bold and bright colour pallet and some woozy moments of surrealism courtesy of DuVernay’s terrific handling of mood and editing, but it's occasionally listless in pace even with its narrow storyline and progression of events, and feels the need to over explain many of its most obvious ideas. Lost in a lovingly realised but heavily digitised world.
But this might be much of its intention when it comes to speaking to children, the audience to which this adventure is best suited and aimed. Its beats and themes will speak greater volumes to younger audiences, especially to young girls who barely get a look in with science fiction in Hollywood. Never mind the significance of voices of colour in a wide release film both behind and in front of the camera. Its emotions are always behind its actions, and while occasionally overstepping logic there's a resonance to certain scenes later on that comes mostly down to the cast.
It offers a trio of great performances from Opera Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling as fabulously dressed and divergent presences of visual design, even if their dialogue mostly consists of inspirational verbiage and simple tokens of advice.
Storm Reid is a compelling and naturally played lead, and so are the young Deric McCabe as prestigious adoptive brother Charles Wallace Murry and Levi Miller as classmate Calvin who tags along for the ride. Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are decent but their screen time is limited in favour of following the children's perspective.
If you can groove on the frequency that A Wrinkle in Time is operating on then you might find yourself getting lost in its visual spender and well-meaning messages of learning to accept yourself and overcoming negative emotions. It's a film with bold ambitions and a lot of heart, but it falters when trying to engage narratively and intellectually as much as it wants to wow with its visual strength and thoughtful themes. It leads with its heart over its mind, and for better or worse it lives and dies by those parameters.