When my third grade teacher read A Wrinkle in Time to the class, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. In my local theater, the cinematic rendition of Madeleine L’Engle’s book failed to evoke the same emotional response: there was not a single tear shed, but rather the occasional yawn.
The first act follows the typical coming of age narrative that we’ve all seen hundreds of times, even featuring the classic bully scene where the mean girls gang up to taunt the protagonist in the school hallway. The head mean girl, Rowan Blanchard from Girl Meets World, just so happens to live next door to the protagonist and spends the majority of her screen time scowling from her bedroom window. The story was written before the various tropes such as this one even existed, but when adapted to the screen, seems like a poorly executed rip-off of other movie franchises like Divergent and The Hunger Games.
Ever since Meg’s (Storm Reid) scientist father went missing, she and her family have been left in shambles. Her brother (Deric McCabe), who is annoyingly referred to by Charles Wallace throughout the entire movie, is a brilliant but bizarre child. We are quickly introduced to three women who seek to guide Meg, her brother and crush on a quest to find her father. Mrs. Whatsit is played by Reese Witherspoon, who overdoes the role at times, while Mrs. Who is played by Mindy Kaling, who seems to be trying to steal every scene. Perhaps the greatest waste of talent is Mrs. Which, played by Oprah, who does her best with the lines she is given but can’t salvage the over-explanatory dialogue. The group “tessers” around the universe, folding space and time to get around instantly.
The only relevant part of the quest is a refreshingly chuckle-worthy scene with Zach Galifianakis. Before that, the group frolics through flowers and flies atop an oddly animated, vegetable-looking Reese Witherspoon, which is all just an unnecessary sequence to establish the antagonist. The film features various landscapes that once would’ve seemed vibrant and exciting but are now dull rip-offs of set pieces from movies like Maleficent.
Screenwriter Jennifer Lee of Frozen opts to have Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which explain everything as they go. Whenever there is a message that the creators want the audience to understand, it is repeated numerous times and over-explained to the point where even the youngest of children will be ready to move on. When the trio isn’t narrating, the father (Chris Pine) is explaining the science behind tessering in a PowerPoint presentation to a group of scientists. If only the story had been presented more visually and subtly, perhaps the themes would have had greater emotional resonance.
One saving grace was the featured music, with songs like Kehlani’s “Let Me Live” and Sia’s “Magic” bringing life to otherwise boring scenes. There were also some impressive action sequences, such as when Meg cleverly hides in a tree trunk to get thrown over a wall by a tornado. However, following every action scene is a sequence where the characters are in a perfectly manicured neighborhood with people who seem hypnotized, a clip reminiscent of Get Out.
The child actors are not the same caliber as recent movies like It, with Reid sometimes failing at anchoring the movie and McCabe often overplaying his roles and not adequately portraying his emotions. However, the diversity of the cast is refreshing, with this being one of the first fantasy movies to be anchored by an African American female lead. This representation is a step in the right direction and functions to empower a young generation of kids who often can’t find characters like them on the screen.
While this movie succeeds in portraying its empowering themes, it fails to truly capture the magic of L’Engle’s story. There are remnants of a great movie here, with a talented cast and production group, but the pieces simply did not come together.
Grant Muller is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org