“A Wrinkle in Time” is based on the Award-winning 1962 novel of the same name that’s a fixture in most grade school classrooms. I’ve been familiar with the book for a long time, but didn’t read it growing-up. After seeing Disney’s film adaptation, I consider that a blessing.
Ava DuVernay is the talented director of the 2014 Oscar-winning Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic “Selma” and 2016’s acclaimed documentary “13th”. She pours heart and soul into every project, often relying on tight close-ups and emotional, dramatic performances. The rare calm moments in “A Wrinkle in Time” – mostly quiet conversations between just two characters – are excellent. It’s nearly everything else in the film that simply doesn’t work.
Physicist Alex Murry (played by Chris Pine) and his scientist wife study cutting edge theories of extra dimensions and the secrets of the universe. The couple has a daughter, Meg and they are about to adopt a boy, Charles Wallace. Flash-forward four years and we learn that Alex has been missing all of that time – he just mysteriously vanished – and the smart but troubled now high school student Meg is starting to believe he’s never coming back.
But then three “spirits” arrive: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and the equivalent of Mother Earth, Mrs. Which (she’s played by who else but Oprah). They tell Meg and her brother that their father isn’t dead, but trapped in space – in another dimension. The spirits take Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s classmate Calvin on an epic journey across the galaxy to find Alex and bring him home.
While this may have worked on the page, too much of “A Wrinkle in Time” is so out there and so bizarre that it’s difficult to take the majority of the movie seriously. One scene early on has Witherspoon spinning around in a field (like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”). All her clothes come-off (the kids literally cover their eyes), and she transforms into a combination of a female Jolly Green Giant and a flying leaf woman. The kids hop onboard and as they’re flying Charles Wallace holds out his hand and rubs the cheek of an enormous, 15-story tall Oprah. It’s both kooky and comical.
Later on, Charles Wallace (young Deric McCabe gets more screen time than anyone) is consumed by evil spirits, becoming a junior Hannibal Lecter – producing some mind-boggling moments.
Ultimately, “A Wrinkle in Time” works way too hard to make its basic points about forgiveness, family and the power of love. And even with all the elaborate visuals, and attempts at making a contemporary political statement, it all feels dated.
The look is impressive – the costumes and set designs are appropriately extravagant. Zach Galifianakis, as a seer, drops-in for one of the best dramatic scenes of his career, but the rest of the performances are unconvincing, even for a fantasy.
Overall, there’s not nearly enough here to recommend taking this journey. And this film is especially not appropriate for younger kids. It’s a pretty intense PG. Even the target 10-12 year old demo (and their parents) may be creeped-out by the 150-foot Oprah. Who wouldn’t be?
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “A Wrinkle in Time” gets a C-.
Running Time: 110 min.