Sometimes I feel guilty when a movie comes out and I haven’t read the book it’s based on; sort of like a kid in school forgoing the book to watch the movie for a book report. Sometimes it can be better not to have read the book first, as the book is almost always “better” than the movie. Not only do books allow for deeper exploration into why and how characters do what they do and the environments that surround them, but what’s produced on screen usually can’t compare to what you imagined on your own. At the same time, films can wind up being just as entertaining as their written counterparts, even as they alter or cut elements for time. In the case of A Wrinkle In Time, Disney’s new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s fantastical book, having seen the movie without having read the book somehow makes me feel I’m missing something — as if there’s a secret in the book that didn’t transfer to the big screen.
Storm Reid plays Meg, a junior high student still grieving over the loss of her father, Mr. Murry (Chris Pine), after his mysterious disappearance four years earlier. She’s a very intelligent girl but a bit of an outcast who doesn’t feel she belongs. This struggle in figuring out who she is and what she wants to be drives the bulk of the narrative, especially after she discovers that her father’s madcap theories about bending space and time with his mind may not have been so wild and crazy. After her little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), introduces her to free spirit Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), old-as-dirt Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and the wise and majestic Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Meg discovers her father may still be alive, trapped somewhere in the universe, and it’s up to her to rescue him.
The visual fantasy elements of the film are done well, especially when the team of rescuers (which also includes Calvin (Levi Miller), one of Meg’s classmates who stands in as a love interest for some reason) enter the “It”, a mysterious dark force that devours the light and love from the universe, leaving behind darkness that manifests itself as hatred, jealousy, contempt and the like. At the same time, they feel a little sporadic, as if they’re thrown in for no other reason than because they need a new set piece to wow you with. The explanations for how things work are either non-existent or overly blatant, and that balance makes the overall pace of the film feel somewhat stiff.
This rigid sense of aesthetics also bleeds into the cast. It’s extremely hard to relate to anyone in the film, mostly because it doesn’t feel as if the players on the board are working together, even when they visibly are. Other than the loving relationship between Meg and Charles Wallace, no one is actually connected to anyone else. In other words, everyone seems to be in their own movie, almost as if they all filmed their scenes separately and then added together digitally. This is especially true of Meg and Calvin’s relationship, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not only are we never introduced to the two as a pair prior to the journey, but Calvin’s presence holds absolutely no relevance. If he was removed from the film, it wouldn’t make much of a difference to the plot or the growth of the characters.
This isn’t all the fault of the actors; they’re doing the best with what they’re given (especially Witherspoon, who is such a delight in every scene she’s in). When the script doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of explanation for anything, or roll out developments that have no resolution or are resolved with nothing more than a simple wave, there isn’t much the actors can do to overcome that. Take Charles Wallace, for example. He was adopted by Mr. Murry and his wife, Mrs. Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as a baby, and though this fact comes into play late in the film, the reason for why they adopted him is left on the cutting room floor. Although the climax of the film is emotionally resonant, knowing why Charles Wallace’s parents chose to — or had to — adopt him would have given a much better context, allowing that emotion to be even more significant.
The supporting players that pop in, including Zach Galifianakis as Happy Medium and Michael Peña as… I’m not quite sure exactly…, don’t add a whole lot to what’s happening, and though I liked that the trio of Mrs. had to abandon Meg in order for her to truly find herself and become the hero she was born to be, they didn’t do a whole lot to get her ready, and I’m not sure they helped her enough to allow for her to complete her journey without them.
Although I liked and appreciated the strong message director Ava DuVernay leaves behind about loving who you are and never hiding from it, it doesn’t seem as anything will change after what happens. There are a lot of fun and interesting aspects to the film, but with such thin character developments, a lack of resolution in a lot of the subplots, characters that felt separated from one another even as they held hands to unite in strength, and the entire idea of Meg being a warrior who will serve the good and the light in the universe being subdued to the point where it doesn’t make a lot of sense, A Wrinkle In Time fails to capture any true sense of wonder. An adaptation shouldn’t leave you feeling as if you would have a better experience if you read the book, but that’s exactly what this film does, so I guess I’m going to have to do just that to find out what magic was actually missing.
My Grade: B
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Next week, new movies include Tomb Raider, I Can Only Imagine and Love, Simon. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.