In general, books are better than their film counterparts. Not everyone reads, I know that, and filmmakers know that, so with any luck, you’ll have an adaptation that can stand on its own. A good adaptation will satisfy the book readers (with a minimum of fuss), and excite non-readers as a separate entity. Disney has put a lot of money and time into promoting its new adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and as this is one of my favorite books, one I read many many years ago, and several times since, I was very excited for this to come out. It looked fantastic in promos – with powerhouses like Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, would it hold up?
It’s a visually beautiful film. Director Ava DuVernay definitely knows how to do gorgeous. She’s also the first African-American female director to head a $100 million film production (click here for an interview from PBS). Most of the performances, especially Storm Reid as the young lead, Meg Murry, are terrific. It was a great idea to have an interracial cast. It’s obvious that this was a big budget movie, filmed all over the world. And yet… sadly, the beauty and talent is a fragile bubble, with very little foundation underneath. Its messages of love conquering all and self-acceptance are important, but overdone, and it feels like the movie hits you over the head with them.
What really are Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), Mrs Whatsit (Witherspoon) and Mrs Which (Oprah)? Their role, so important in the book, is limited and confusing here. Reese Witherspoon was the one disappointing note among the performances – it felt like she was forcing a “cutesy” performance. She says early on that she’s new to the team, having been selected for her “vocalization and visualization skills” – the visualization was done beautifully, particularly when she turns into a flying leaf to try to get the children closer to Meg and Charles Wallace’s father (Chris Pine). But the vocalization was always on the stridently cheerful side, and it got to be very tiring.
Mrs Who had very little to do, beyond spouting pithy but appropriate quotations. Oprah should adopt Mrs Which’s bejeweled eyebrows as standard wear – I did enjoy her regal, calm presence (and one line of her lines was perhaps unintentionally a callback to her weight struggles – when Mrs Which first appears in the Murry’s yard, she’s 15 feet tall, and asks, “is there ever a wrong size?”).
Beyond Meg Murry, there’s no character development. We get the idea that little Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is exceptional and amazing – after all, it’s Charles Wallace who first is contacted by the three Mrs. But why? What’s so special? The best part of his role is when he’s taken over by the evil intelligence, the It on the planet Camazotz, but it seemed way too easy to draw him, with supposedly such a huge brain, in. Chris Pine, as the missing Dr. Murry, has his best scene at the beginning of the film, and very little after that. And Calvin (Levi Miller), the young man who joins them, seems to be there just because they needed an older boy in the cast. When Meg and Charles Wallace first meet him outside of Mrs Who’s house, he’s told he’s there for his “diplomacy,” but this never comes into play. And in fact, at the end of the film, Calvin is forgotten completely, and seems to make it back to the Murry’s house all on his own.
Zach Galafianakis is sweet as the Happy Medium, but this sequence went on for much too long, considering everything else that was cut out from the story.
If you can bring a young girl with you, one you’d like to have understand the messages of self-acceptance, the importance of family, and the ability of young girls to be heroes and science stars, I wouldn’t tell you to not see this film. If you aren’t familiar with the book, you’ll probably enjoy it more. But I’d still love to see a filmed adaptation – it will probably take a mini-series – that was faithful to the story.
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