A film review by Craig J. Koban March 17, 2018


2018, PG-13, 109 mins.


Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which  /  Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit  /  Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who  /  Storm Reid as Margaret "Meg" Murry  /  Zach Galifianakis as The Happy Medium  /  Chris Pine as Dr. Alexander "Alex" Murry  /  Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dr. Katherine "Kate" Murry  /  Michael Peña as The Man with Red Eyes  /  Levi Miller as Calvin O'Keefe  /  Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace Murry  /  André Holland as Principal Jenkins

Directed by Ava DuVernay  /  Written by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, based on the book by Madeleine L'Engle


Disney's latest live action fantasy A WRINKLE IN TIME - alongside recent examples from the studio like TOMORROWLAND and THE BFG - is yet another example of a high concept effort that gets severely undermined by a lackluster overall execution.  

Based on an apparently unfilmable 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L'Engle (unread by me) and directed by Ava DuVernay (whom previously made the Civil Rights era drama SELMA), A WRINKLE IN TIME coast by reasonably well on the inherent strengths of the lead performance by its young actress and the nobility of its themes (that features messages of female empowerment, diversity, and how family love can overcome any obstacle), but its overall world building feels rushed and nonsensical throughout.  By around the 30 minute mark I was starting to drift off with disinterest, which is ultimately telling. 

This is not the first time that this source material has been adapted in movie form; there previously existed a 2003 made for TV iteration that attempted to bring L'Engle's vivid imagination to life.  Now armed with a $100 million budget, more technological resources, and a bankable cast, DuVernay attempts, as best as she can, to bring a much required sense of awe inspiring scale and visceral delight to the film.  Unfortunately, A WRINKLE IN TIME lacks what all good big screen fantasies should have in ample dosages: a sense of limitless magic and wonder.  The film is absolutely proof positive that you can front load any production with wall to wall visual effects and would-be sumptuous eye candy, but it's all for naught if the storytelling is muddled, confusing, and lacking in thrilling momentum.  At a somewhat anemic 109 minutes,  A WRINKLE IN TIME feels woefully underdeveloped on all levels; I struggled with boredom while watching the picture and found myself asking far too many logical questions about it core mythology. 



Still, I enjoyed the opening setup to this film quite a bit.  Meg (a winning Storm Reid) is a troubled teenager that once had a very tight and loving bond with her father, Alex (an underutilized Chris Pine), who was an astrophysicist that developed some, shall we say, strange theories about the nature of time, alternate dimensions and universes, and what he perceived was out easy ability to theoretically travel between spheres of time and space.  One day, without warning, Alex disappears, leaving Meg fatherless with her younger sibling, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe).  Alex's wife, Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a gifted scientist in her own right, deals with the crushing emotional pain of her husband's disappearance, especially in not knowing where he could have ended up.  Adding insult to her pain was the fact that Alex was tormented and ridiculed by his fellow colleagues in the scientific community, whom all believed that his theories were pure rubbish. 

Fate, as it always does, steps in when three strange outsiders show up at Meg's home: Whatsit (Reece Wintherspoon), Who (Mindy Kaling) and Which (Oprah Winfrey).  The spiritual beings emerge and offer Meg and Charles Wallace a chance of a lifetime to journey with them to different planets and realms on a rescue mission to locate and retrieve Alex, who's been gone for over four years and feared dead.  Accompanying the kids and their mysterious intergalactic tour guides is Calvin (Levi Miller) a neighbor with eyes for Meg.  Within no time, everyone gets whisked through a portal like tesseract to fold time and space and launch them all on their improbable journey through the cosmos, entering multiple magical worlds that are all threatened by "It" (not Pennywise the Clown), a dark entity that may be the culprit behind Alex's long absence and captivity. 

As mentioned, I enjoyed the opening scenes of A WRINKLE IN TIME, which shows Meg acclimating to days of bullying on the school playground while dealing with the terrible burden of having a father that has seemingly abandoned her and her family.  The film does a good job of initially exploring the bond between father and daughter and how Alex - in flashback scenes - planted a seed in Meg for her own keen fascination with science.  When Alex does disappear after making his scientific breakthroughs, it crushes poor Meg, which begins to negatively affect her social standing at school and at home.  I thought that young Storm Reid brings ample spunk and soulful melancholy as her fragile protagonist that's perhaps given more depth than perhaps any other character in the film, much to the ironic detriment to the rest of the cast.  Still, I admired her work here and the multicultural assembled crew that surrounds her. 

A WRINKLE IN TIME is also on reasonably solid footing when it comes to its thoughtful themes that are good for young and old viewers alike.  Throughout her impossible journey, Meg has to come to grips with her race, culture, self-image and esteem, and how there are barriers around her that further challenge how she feels about them all.  That, and A WRINKLE IN TIME embodies a decent message of emboldening oneself for the greater good and how young people can find the inner strength from within to withstand any emotional and physical trial.  The film, as a result, can be quite moving in parts, especially in the manner that its heroine abandons the world she knows to traverse though ones that are altogether extraterrestrial to her...and all in hopes of re-establishing a family relationship she once felt was broken forever.  This movie has an awfully big heart to it. 

Regrettably, though, honorable story intentions are meaningless without reasonable creative follow-through at the helm, and that's where I think DuVernay fails this film.  A WRINKLE IN TIME is a fantasy film that's practically begging to be wholeheartedly embraced and loved, but the manner it frustratingly pushes viewers away with its oftentimes obliquely rendered world is off-putting, to say the least.  Part of this has to do with the fact that DuVernay - previously known for smaller scaled productions - can't seem to find her visual way with this film.  There's conceptually imagination to be had here, for sure, but her aesthetic approach (utilizing, for example, an exacerbating predilection towards too many close-ups and strange pop tunes on the soundtrack) drains out the ethereal magic from the production.  A WRINKLE IN TIME wants to think big, but it rarely feels epic and grand.  There are certain moments where the vistas created off world team with brilliant usage of vibrant color that are beautiful to behold, but more often than not the middling visual effects work rears its ugly head.  Some of the CGI in the film - in particular during one garish scene that showcases Witherspoon transforming into what appears to be a floating cabbage leaf with a head - feels like it came from a VFX demo reel from twenty years ago and not the product of a modern blockbuster with one of the most powerful studios behind it. 

The stiff and plasticized pixelated look of the film aside, A WRINKLE IN TIME is such a confounding experience when it attempts to explain all of the weird phenomenon that's occurring around Meg and company.  There are many moments in the story where characters tediously explain what's happening in Meg's interplanetary space trekking, only then to be followed by more dry expositional dumping; Oprah Winfrey in particular is giving nothing much more to do than look regal while delivering solemn speeches.  Which herself has one of the strangest introductions that I've ever seen in a film.  When she first appears in Meg's backyard she takes the form of a 30' tall...well...Oprah Winfrey, which for some unexplained reason is never noticed by any of Meg's other neighbors at all.  Plus, no one in this film seems the slightest bit frazzled by the appearance of the building sized Which; no one appears frightened or bewildered by her at all.  Even Meg gazes at her like a young girl would when ordering off of a fast food menu. 

The strange internal logic of A WRINKLE IN TIME doesn't end there when it comes to incidents that frankly make little sense, mostly because the narrative trajectory is so meandering and undisciplined that it has a made-up-as-they-go feel throughout.  It's never really established why Calvin joins Meg and her brother on their journey, other than the fact that this story needs an adolescent love interest to churn out groan inducing cookie cutter lines like, "You have great hair" or "You have no idea how special you are."  The film doesn't give the rest of the cast much to do either, with poor Mindy Kaling looking mostly befuddled in her limited scenes and Witherspoon doing what appears to be a pale Glinda, the Good Witch of the North routine that never pays off very well.  Other well know actors also appear over the course of the film, like Zack Galifianakis in a mostly nothing role and Michael Pena that peculiarly shows up a red-eyed demon thingy that works under It's spell to stop Meg from finding her father.  Very few fantasy films as of late have felt as uneven and insufficiently developed as much as this one.  A WRINKLE OF TIME is a series of travelogue-like scenes in search of an overreaching story. 

By the time this film reached it end credits it felt twice as long as its established running time, which consequently made me wish that I had my own personal tesseract to transport out of the cinema and far away from it.  A WRINKLE IN TIME is one large squandered opportunity: The individual pieces are here for a grandly envisioned fantasy, but DuVernay can't seem to pull them all together to make a cohesive or understandable whole.  Instead of boldly taking filmgoers where no filmgoer has gone before, A WRINKLE IN TIME instead just feels hopelessly lost in space

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