A Wrinkle in Time tells self-affirming story despite narrative flaws

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Based on the French children’s novel of the same name, A Wrinkle in Time was the first movie with a budget over $100 million to be directed by a woman of color. It was also the latest of The Walt Disney Co.’s live-action remakes of previous Disney films, following Cinderella, Maleficent, Pete’s Dragon, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast.

Plans have been announced for future adaptations, including Aladdin, Mulan, The Lion King and Christopher Robin, the latter a Hook-like retelling of Winnie the Pooh.

The narrative surrounding A Wrinkle in Time was largely based on the people of color in front of and behind the camera, with initiatives started to help raise money for people of color — particularly children — who could not afford to buy a movie ticket for themselves. The resulting film, directed by Ava DuVernay, is generally a visual marvel. It has faults, but not to the point of ruining a nice and emotional romantic tale.

The movie stars Storm Reid as Meg, a girl in search of her lost father, played by Chris Pine. Helped by the mysterious Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey, respectively, and at the urging of her brother Charles Wallace, played by Deric McCabe, Meg sets off on an odyssey across dimensions to find her father, a physicist who disappeared four years prior.

She goes on her journey with Charles Wallace and Calvin, the latter a friend played by Levi Miller. The group moves between dimensions through a process called “tessering,” folding or creating “wrinkles” in space and time for shortcuts to places unknown.

A Wrinkle in Time is a faulty structure built on strong emotional foundations. The film begins with a scene of the love between Pine’s character, Mr. Murry, and Meg, as the father teaches his daughter scientific concepts in a loving manner.

There is an immediate sense of their relationship that comes out of Pine’s acting and that of Lyric Wilson, the actress behind the younger Meg. More often than not, plotlines fail to give enough foundation to significant relationships, weakening the films that depend on them for emotional resonance. Under DuVernay’s direction, a single scene is enough to feel for the characters.

The central weakness to the film is its abundance of contrivances. Things just happen. The appearance of Mrs. Whatsit is inexplicable; she just shows up. She brings the adventure to the hero in a way that feels unnatural. The sequence of events that start off the plot feel like a weak hook from the roleplaying game “Dungeons & Dragons,” where adventurers would be brought into a quest merely for the reason that they are supposed to be brought in.

Charles Wallace even says that Calvin is joining the group for his “diplomacy,” a trait that other characters also exhibited in an earlier version of the aforementioned game. The fact that Calvin never uses this trait is even more frustrating as a result of this poor setup.

The dialogue is also a weak spot. McCabe, young as he is, delivers plenty of awkward or uncomfortable lines, and with a screenplay by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell giving Charles Wallace plenty of monologues, the language can become grating.

At the beginning, there is a sense that the words are meant to be childlike in their statements of unnecessarily obvious facts. By the end, there has been too much of it to find merit in the cloying words of Lee and Stockwell’s script.

Still, A Wrinkle in Time is a sweet and self-affirming film. The tale of the reluctant hero is nothing new, yet DuVernay’s film handles the concept relatively well. Meg is told that she is strong and that without any special training, her emotions for her father are enough. Often, the reluctant hero has some special ability that helps them in their quest, be it magic, the Force or whatever else the screenwriters provide for an explanation.

The innately talented hero is nowhere near as relatable and empowering as a character who just needs the willingness to act upon emotion. Meg’s love for her father carries her across dimensions.

There is a lot of beauty in the visuals, yet, much like the plot, there are holes in the overall vision. The ripples of the wrinkles are gorgeous, as are the costumes designed by Paco Delgado. There are sequences of gorgeousness, particularly inside the chamber that holds Mr. Murry, resembling the room Drake danced in for the “Hotline Bling” music video.

Still, these visuals are at times left as they are presented in the trailer — moments that are not capitalized upon, like the visual of a cul-de-sac full of simultaneously bouncing kickballs.

DuVernay’s film is not the best of the Disney live-action remakes, but it is the most significant so far. Its self-affirming message is relatable to young girls of color, along with anybody else — as this story is not exclusive to one audience — and it is an important and long-lasting one. The holes are just bumps along the way.