A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
★ / ★★★★
At least its intention comes from a good place.
“A Wrinkle in Time” aims to empower young people to learn to love themselves, to embrace their flaws yet remain open for the possibility of self-improvement, to be malleable should the occasion call for it, to be proud of being smart and self-reliant. But director Ava DuVernay has failed to make a truly captivating picture for children and young adolescents because the approach is often ostentatious rather than introspective, quiet, and personal. One gets the impression that she wished to create a film that would be remembered for years to come. But in order to achieve this, it appears she has forgotten one simple rule: the emotions behind the situations shown on screen must not only ring true, they must be treated with constantly evolving complexity that runs parallel to the growth of the person we are asked to follow.
I found the movie to be intolerably fake, from the expensive special and visual effects down to the would-be tears streaming down a child’s face during the most dramatic moments. With the former, it is so obvious whenever actors are emoting in front of a blue or green screen. As a result, the supposedly costly visuals look cheap and laughable. I’ve seen much more convincing visuals from modern video games. With the latter, clearly Visine or water was dropped onto eyes of actors and they were instructed to look sad. One sees through the sham almost immediately because when they cry their eyes do not even look slightly red. Their lips do not tremble convincingly. Involuntary ticks associated with sorrow or despair are nowhere to be found.
At its most preposterous, one gets the impression that a fashion show is taking place, particularly when Meg (Storm Reid), our heroine who goes on a quest to search for her missing father (Chris Pine), an accomplished NASA scientist, crosses paths with Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), beings in the form of adult women who possess the ability to travel across time and space. These veteran performers deliver a parade of annoyance, particularly Witherspoon who appears to not have created a character that is worthy of the story’s fantastical universe. But perhaps the dialogue shares equal responsibility, too.
Screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell appear to not have an understanding of what piques children’s curiosity. Nearly every line that characters utter is dumbed down. Helpful life lessons are as subtle as a kick in the gut. Once in a while a complex scientific term is thrown around—but do not be fooled: as a person with a solid scientific background, let me tell you that these serve merely as decoration. I found it maddening that the material is afraid to explain an intricate concept yet its overall message touches upon the value of being inquisitive. Why must these writers make the same mistakes as generic children’s films that have nothing to offer except busy activity and noise?
Notice its misguided use of music. Score and soundtrack are omnipresent—most distracting and inappropriate because there are moments in the film when the characters and the audience must ruminate. How could we get into a place of genuine feelings and deep thoughts when such musical signals shove us into feeling or thinking a certain way? This creates an impression that the filmmakers do not trust the audience to come up with their own conclusions. How can we feel empowered by our own experiences with the work when there is implication that there is only one way to respond to it?
This interpretation of the beloved novel by Madeleine L’Engle is a disgrace for it does not practice what it preaches. Great movies for children are memorable exactly because they are personal stories told through a filmmaker’s personal touch. They do not aspire to be big, they just are—and sometimes time actually makes them bigger, grander, more definitive than they were. Here, DuVernay’s signature is drowned by all the blinding colors, meaningless noise, and stupidity wrapped in bad fortune cookie aphorisms.