REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time [2018]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: March 9th, 2018 (USA)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Ava DuVernay
Writer(s): Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell / Madeleine L’Engle (novel)

“Love is the frequency”

While waiting outside the bathrooms after A Wrinkle in Time finished, I saw a white couple with their two young, fair-haired daughters walking out of the theater. Mom and Dad were explaining to one how movies are interpretations. They were reminding her that she had an idea of what the characters looked like while reading and now Ava DuVernay showed hers onscreen. The girl looked up and said, “Yeah. Most of them were blonde in the book.” They went out of earshot soon after, just as another family exited: a black mother with her son and daughter, smiles across their faces as they excitedly jumped around. Here I was seven weeks removed from opening weekend and the true power of the film’s aesthetic messaging and creativity remained inescapable.

I personally never read Madeleine L’Engle‘s source novel, so I had no preconceptions about characters or plot. I wonder if many of the bad reviews the film received are a result of writers who did because I find it difficult to see how they could have rejected DuVernay’s vision so strongly. To me the story was a rather poignant look at adolescent insecurities whether abandonment, popularity, abuse, or jealousy. It provided a worthwhile message about embracing one’s faults and accepting individuality as a positive rather than negative no matter what peer pressure presumed. And it did these things without pandering to its target audience. DuVernay and her screenwriters (Jeff Stockwell and Jennifer Lee) fearlessly amplify our psyches’ darkness to reveal how forgiveness and understanding aren’t so easily won.

The film therefore excels through its humanity rather than fantasy. Everything about our heroes’ (Storm Reid‘s Meg, Deric McCabe‘s Charles Wallace, and Levi Miller‘s Calvin) journey through the universe to see color-talking flowers and darkness-spreading viruses is metaphor for the struggles faced within themselves more than actual places to explore. That’s not to say Camazotz doesn’t exist—in the context of the story it does. It and the others simply do as manifestations of good, evil, hope, and despair too. A Wrinkle in Time works on both levels to ensure the environments never overshadow the adventurers within. The settings are stepping-stones to the destination of their quest, the women leading them (Reese Witherspoon‘s Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling‘s Mrs. Who, and Oprah Winfrey‘s Mrs. Which) guides instead of generals.

It’s not about whether Meg and Charles Wallace’s father (Chris Pine‘s Alex Murry) travels through the universe’s infinite reach in the blink of an eye, but that they can do the same to retrieve him. His discovery of doing so with his partner in life and science Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a catalyst that exposes what truly matters to us all. His actions pale in comparison to his absence and therefore prove how this rescue mission is less about his return than it is the Murry family’s equilibrium. Alex isn’t the only one who was lost upon his disappearance. You could say Meg found herself lost even further because the person she became as a result remained visible to compare against the shadow of who she once was.

So no matter how harrowing the inevitable fight against “The IT” might prove, the real moment of intensity arrives halfway through when the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) sees into these characters’ (and others still on Earth including André Holland‘s Principal Jenkins and Rowan Blanchard‘s “mean girl” Veronica) souls to project their internal strife. Here’s where we discover why they’re willing to go to the end of existence without a clue as to what they may expect. We understand they each have their reasons and that Alex Murry’s wellbeing is the least of them. DuVernay therefore show faces of multiple ethnicities and color via children and adults alike and the myriad emotional triggers able to target her audience below the surface. You cannot help seeing yourself onscreen.

Maybe you’re the try-hard who seeks approval as a means of compensating for the lack thereof at home (Calvin) or the insecure bully whose self-loathing transforms into anger at those who refuse to put in the tireless work to conform that she does (Veronica). Maybe you’re the outgoing child prodigy who has embraced his intelligence in a way that supplies the confidence to own its eccentricity rather than subdue it (Charles Wallace) or the lonely nihilist who sees life as a chore to survive by closing herself off from the pain of losing loved ones (Meg). It doesn’t matter which as long as you can find the courage to confront the stigma of the why in order to wield your faults as strengths instead of deficiencies to hide.

We must hone in on this message because it’s what everything else surrounds. Mrs. Whatsit, Who, and Which are here to gently coax Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin onto the path of self-revelation, not to hold their hands. They speak in riddles and delicately chide to provoke as much as educate. And they are not a safety net to arrive when necessary, just teachers who supply tools that their students must then master themselves. So its fun to meet them in their absurdity, feel warm in their embrace, and empowered by their absence. Think of them as consciences forever within that we allow ourselves to hear. Their presence remains even when their bodies don’t because their words have unlocked our full potential whether we realize it or not.

So don’t get caught up in the weird CGI of Mrs. Whatsit’s leaf dragon or the precariously janky stone platforms within the Happy Medium’s home. The special effects are vehicles the characters transcend once they’re pushed beyond their respective comfort zones to strip away seemingly impenetrable artificial façades. It’s about how Meg and the others solve puzzles, fail, and learn from their mistakes after being pushed to the edge of sanity. It’s about escaping the tricks of vanity and sloth to put in the work and defeat the urge to let complacency take over. You may feel awe while looking at some of the worlds at their fingertips, but nothing impacts you more than the insidiousness of reality askew. Terror isn’t tornadoes, its Red’s (Michael Peña) deceitful kindness.

This ensures Meg’s skepticism isn’t unwarranted, especially opposite Charles Wallace’s optimism. It’s why Reid and McCabe are the best pieces of this adventure through the universe of their minds. She’s the perfect straight man hero, always giving whatever new situation presents itself a glare of mistrust. She’s pragmatic enough to know the risks without getting duped by desires that may never be fulfilled. And he acts on impulse driven by youthful energy and an indefatigable sense of hope to prove the film’s lynchpin—the central cause and effect of everything. McCabe delivers the best performance of conflicted ability since Pierce Gagnon in Looper as ego and discovery loom with grand promises, shielding their price until prematurely agreed. Love is sadly too easily warped in the midst of power.


photography:
courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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