Ava DuVernay’s well-intentioned adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s popular children’s book of the same name is a tenaciously tedious, psychedelically sloppy slog. Championing a well-meaning message of the bonds of family and acceptance of oneself, the actual movie is a mind-numbing flurry of exposition vomit, hurried character development and drag-show pizzaz. DuVernay’s tale of a brother and sister hunting their lost father (Chris Pine) throughout the galaxy is constantly on the go, relying on bright pops of color and shimmery CGI to cover up the gaping plot holes developed courtesy of its neck-break pace. Characters explain the plot ad nauseum, using in-house lingo sure to leave many skeptical eyes a’rollin’, as the story whirls from one underdeveloped thread to another at light-speed pace. At once too dark for the younger crowd and too childish for true blue teenagers, A Wrinkle in Time really only appeals to the tween ADHD crowd who likes their stories delivered fast and loose and colorful beyond belief.
As was my initial fear, A Wrinkle in Time falls into the trappings of other teen-targeted Disney ventures. Think Sam Raimi’s ambitious but disastrous Oz the Great and Powerful and Tim Burton’s kaleidoscopic Alice in Wonderland. Both PG experiments never managed a firm handle on tone, struggling to smuggle a specific artist direction in with the sternly family friendly regulations of the House of Mouse. To its credit, Wrinkle in Time trojan horses in progressive messages of inclusion, with the wealth of POC characters on display a notable step forward for the often white-washed Disney outings, but the actual bones of the movie still suggest a director overwhelmed by corporate structure storytelling. This simply is not a story one easy engages with and DuVernay never properly manages to possess our interest, failing to hook our attention from go and struggling henceforth to keep us from falling out of her tale entirely.
The screenplay from Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) adapts the 228-page novel with all the grace of The Hobbit prequel films. From the first scene, things feel rushed and hollow, clipping to the next big FX shot at a staggering pace that never allows one to settle into what should be a place of wonder and amazement. Characters and locations enter and exit the film with bare minimum detail paid to their place and purpose, with some key players making crunch-time decisions that seem totally out of character and yet are never satisfactorily explained. The number of plot holes or brushed over bits and bops is staggering, the film a head-scratching collection of WTF moments that never harmonize to make sense of itself.
The film does have one thing going for it – relative newcomer Storm Reid is pretty great as wounded loner, Meg. Chris Pine too stands above the pack but the other performers are all over the map. Your appreciation for young Deric McCabe, who plays Meg’s precocious little brother Charles Wallace, will depend on your mileage with ‘Young Sheldon’, the child actor a tangle of obnoxiously elevated vocabulary and perfectly parted hair. McCabe’s Charles Wallace is a big force in the film – reportedly a child genius and one of the greatest minds of all time – but he comes across as a bit of an annoying snot from where I was sitting. A third act development with him made no sense as did a parenting decision having to do with how to deal with some of his behavior. Just another logic causality in a film plum full of “don’t think too hard and move along” moments. Levi Miller has little to do as neighborhood kid Calvin, who gets roped into the cross-dimension adventure for practically no reason at all, his role mostly reduced to standing around and gasping at the green screen scenery or making eyes at co-star Reid. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling play a trio of mystical space beings who assist the three kiddos in their quest to find science-poppa but all of them seem above this material, phoning it in with hacky line reads that in turn are overwhelmed by their abundance of facial makeup and funky costumes. At one point, Oprah stands over 20-feet tall. Another, Reese turns into a smiley leaf creature. Kaling’s Mrs. Who only speaks in quotes (including Outkast lyrics) until all of a sudden she doesn’t. None of this is really explained or quantified, A Wrinkle in Time moving with the color schema of an acid trip and the logic to match. For a movie that constantly stops to explain itself, the last thing I wanted was another detour to exposition explanation station but eventually, I just couldn’t bother to really care about anything that was going on, the film stopping for so many unexplained tangents that I struggled to pay attention to any of it at all.
And that really is the problem. Had I been watching A Wrinkle at Time at home, I would have most certainly turned it off within the first 15 minutes of popping it on. There are some spare design elements that I liked – some geometrical worldbuilding that reminded me of FX’s ‘Legion’, to name one such example – but taken as a whole, this simply is not a movie made for me. Good for tweenage kids (the sweet spot being that 10-13 range, I would wager), DuVernay’s first foray into family entertainment is a busy blitz of bubblegum eye candy and drab plot diversions, sure to captivate the eyes and ears (and possibly minds) of impressionable youth but also likely to slightly torment (or at least bore) anyone who isn’t going to watch this with their young ones in arms. By the time everything is said and done, I had trouble recapping exactly what I had just watched and not because there is some kind of palpable metaphysical substance beneath the film that I would need to further reflect on. Quite the opposite – there’s so much packed into this 108 minutes of film that the rushed plot lines, CG-dominated imagery, and cloying lingo blur together into one big onscreen cacophony of noise and sound. I think I might have fallen asleep at one point too.
CONCLUSION: Well-intentioned and good-hearted ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is a gaudy bore, Ava DuVernay’s House of Mouse experiment both superficially busy and thematically hollow, rushing from flashy plot point to plot point without ever developing the scene, characters, stakes or emotional core. An unfortunate misfire.