In Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, people communicate with flowers, Mindy Kaling speaks in quotes (ranging from Gandhi to Chris Tucker), Oprah Winfrey’s first appearance looms large over everyone (it is Oprah after all) and the film’s emotional anchor is played by Captain James T. Kirk, though in fairness Chris Pine is a good actor. That’s A Wrinkle in Time. If that sounds like a mess, it’s because it is a mess. And that stinks.
Adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, the film stars Storm Reid as Meg, a 13-year-old who’s been in and out of trouble since her scientist father (Pine) disappeared without a trace. She has an adopted younger brother, who’s been palling around with three mystical women known as the W’s, played by Kaling, Winfrey and Reece Witherspoon. Once Meg learns of this, it’s decided – by the others – it’s time for all of them to look for her father.
In a taped message before the film’s screening, DuVernay said she made Wrinkle with the intent of making the audience feel like they were 12 or 13 again, and in that regard the film is a success. With a vibe similar to other kid-oriented fantasies like The NeverEnding Story, Wrinkle feels like a blockbuster made specifically for kids. That also means scenes play out longer than they should, dialogue is overly simple, and the children in the film are never in danger, even when they are. One scene is supposed to have Meg being violently whipped around, but she never really moves.
The bigger issue with Wrinkle is that what works in a book won’t always work in a film. Some of the film’s visuals are fantastic, but there isn’t much of a plot. Meg isn’t a very active main character most of the time, doing little more than complaining as the others hold her hand, whisking her off to different places in the universe. There, they ask the locals, be it Zach Galifianakis or a bunch of flowers, if they saw her dad. Once the answer is no, the W’s whisk the kids off to the next place.
It’s not until the third act that the plot kicks in and a villain takes shape. That doesn’t even get into the bits of stunted, awkward dialogue lifted straight from L’Engle’s novel, which was first released in 1962.
A Wrinkle in Time marks a watershed moment for minority directors, especially coming so close to the amazing success of Ryan Coogler and Black Panther. Wrinkle is the first film directed by a woman of color to feature a budget or more than $100 million. That’s a big, big deal. Directors, regardless of sex or race, deserve the chance to make bigger-budgeted fare like Wrinkle, and an influx of different perspectives can only make commercial films more interesting in the future. Wrinkle just isn’t one of them.