The last time someone tried to adapt Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel “A Wrinkle in Time” for the screen the author herself was not impressed. “I have glimpsed it,” she said of the 2003 TV movie, “I expected it to be bad and it is.”
The novel’s mix of science fiction, math and spiritualism is intoxicating on the page but the story’s trip through time and space, heavy on symbolism. alien life and pop psychology has rumoured to be an unfilmable fantasy. Fans of the book will find out this weekend if Ava DuVernay, Oscar nominated director of “13th” and “Selma,” can bring the wonder of L’Engle’s vision to the screen.
Like many Disney movies “A Wrinkle in Time” begins with the loss of a parent. Husband and wife Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) and Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are astrophysicists and loving parents to Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Alex is determined to push the limits of their research, to find a wrinkle in time that could propel them to the ends of the universe. One night, alone in his laboratory he discovers the wrinkle and, just like that, he’s gone.
Cut to four years later. Meg’s sunny disposition disappeared with her father. “What would happen if your father walked through the door,” asks her principal. “The world would make sense again,” she replies.
Charles Wallace has grown into a precocious, intelligent child who believes he can help locate his father with the help of three astral travelers, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling).
Here’s where it gets trippy.
Guided by the trio of spirit beings Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend—and Meg’s crush—Calvin (Levi Miller) ascend to the universe in search of Alex. In their astral travels they meet a helpful seer called the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), talking flowers—“ Everyone knows the flowers are the best talkers,” says Mrs. Whatsit.—and the universe’s most evil entity. Meg will learn life lessons along the way that may—or may not—reveal what happened to her dad.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is a big, colourful and complicated movie with a simple moral. Love conquers all. Like all fantasy the story isn’t really about the tesseract, fifth-dimensional phenomenon time travel or any of that, it’s about fundamental truths, self-worth and the struggle between good and evil. Director Ava DuVernay wrestles all these themes and more into the film, which occasionally feels more interested in the visuals and ideas than it does with the story. The movie’s many moving parts and heaps of CGI overwhelm but DuVernay gets much right as well.
Casting wise, the success or failure of “A Wrinkle in Time” hinges on the kids. In Reid, DuVernay found a young actress capable of portraying Meg’s complexity, from her struggle to fit in to her very relatable flaws. She’s heroic but also a real girl in an unreal situation and Reid breathes life into her.
As Charles Wallace, the precocious preteen whose personality takes a turn for the worse in outer space, McCabe brings a weight to the character that feels beyond his years.
The trio of aliens are vividly portrayed by Winfrey, Witherspoon) and Kaling who impart wisdom and smooth the way for Meg’s emotional journey but I found their somewhat psychedelic presence distracted from the telling of the tale.
“A Wrinkle in Time” contains good messages for kids and some visuals that will make your eyeballs dance and it is made with heart but—there’s always a ‘but’ when I discuss this movie—it feels like it bites off more than it can chew.