FILM REVIEW – A WRINKLE IN TIME. With Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Deric McCabe. Written by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell. Directed by Ava DuVernay. Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril. 109 minutes.
Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1962 novel, A WRINKLE IN TIME, has amazed and enchanted generations of young readers. Thus, it is fair to say that director Ava DuVernay’s big screen adaptation (there was a halfway-decent TV adaptation in 2003) is one of the most anticipated films of the season. Alas, it turns out to be one of the biggest disappointments.
The story focuses on Meg Murry (Storm Reid). Her parents (Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are scientists and, after a prologue, we learn that her father has mysteriously disappeared while attempting to travel across space via a “tesseract,” some sort of force field powered by the mind. Making the Murrys a multi-racial family works okay, particularly since young Reid is the best thing about the film.
However, Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), introduces them to a witch named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) who claims their father is still alive and they can go get him. In short order, we’re introduced to two other witches, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who speaks in quotations, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who for some reason is giant-sized for part of the movie.
In short order, the two children, joined by their friend Calvin (Levi Miller) are gallivanting across the universe, having magical adventures, but eventually forced to face “IT,” a force of darkness and evil who has held their father captive and now seeks to ensnare the children. Along the way Meg is forced to confront her deepest fears and faults before – no spoilers – the final showdown.
L’Engle’s book is inventive and imaginative, and glimmers of it appear here, but DuVernay – whose previous feature, “Selma,” had similar problems – directs at a leaden pace. She seems to have no idea how to get out of a scene once it has accomplished what it had to, letting it drag on to no purpose. It doesn’t help that she is similarly out of touch with her cast. Witherspoon and Kaling ham it up as two of the witches, while Winfrey gives what may prove to be the worst performance in a movie this year, lumbering around like the Statue of Liberty come to life as the giant Mrs. Which, and even at normal size stuffed into hideous outfits that were someone’s idea of what a witch would wear.
The other adults have less to do and, thus, less opportunity to embarrass themselves, although as a scientist who has cracked the secret of the universe Pine probably shouldn’t look like he’s about to burst into tears at any moment. It says something about the acting in the film that one has to say that the most subtle and understated performance is by Zach Galifianakis, as the Happy Medium, who is sometimes able to forecast the future. It is probably the first time either word has ever been applied to the actor, who more often comes across as someone who needs to be directed with a chair and a whip.
“A Wrinkle In Time” was a movie that should have sparked the imagination rather than show how much the Disney studio invested in special effects and art direction. It’s not always true that the book is better than the movie, but in this case, the book wins hands-down. Buy a copy for your kids if they haven’t read it and spare them having to endure this misbegotten film.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.