A Wrinkle in Time marks the first major misstep in director Ava DuVernay career. She previously directed the Oscar nominated Selma and the hit Netflix documentary 13th. Even though DuVernay is going to take most of the blame for the film’s poor quality, as most directors do, it isn’t completely her fault. The writing and to a lesser extent the acting and visuals are the main reasons why A Wrinkle in Time falls flat.
Many of the stars featured in the trailer such as Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Zach Galifianakis have a tiny amount of screen time and aren’t given nearly enough good material to work with. The only one that comes close is Chris Pine and even then I felt there needed to be a little for of him. While none of the adults come off as bad, they all fail to be memorable, especially if you have seen the trailers and were expecting to see more from them. The film focuses mainly on the three children instead, Meg Murray, played by Storm Reid, her younger brother Charles Wallace, played by Deric McCabe and their friend who tags along Calvin O’Keefe, played by Levi Miller. Out of the three leads, Levi Miller is by far the weakest link. His lines are all delivered too softly with not nearly enough emotion and he is given such little personality or backstory that you’ll probably forget he is even there. Reid and McCabe’s characters are given more material, as the mysterious disappearance of their father four years ago makes for some meaningful moments and eventually leads to one of the best scenes in the film between Meg and her father. Reid, the secondary lead, was my favorite part of the movie, even though he too occasionally fails to sell an important line.
The visuals are occasionally interesting with the standout being how traveling through space is portrayed by the world around them seeming to melt away. However, while some effects work perfectly, others come off as fake or dull, with the climax coming off as especially uninspired. Certain sequences are interesting and creative, but feel out of place and pointless at the same time. It felt as though the writers came up with several interesting standalone scenes, then wrote the rest of the movie around them. They should have started with writing a great script, then left it up to the director and visual effects team to make it look interesting. The costume design, makeup, hair styling and production design are all handled well however, with certain costumes and sets really standing out in my mind upon looking back. The cinematography was noticeably off, with an abundance of close ups on the faces of the main cast which often came off as uncomfortable and off putting when they obviously shouldn’t have been. The soundtrack also misses the mark, it’s filled with generic pop songs and predictable music that overstates the tone of the scene. An entirely instrumental score would have fit the film much better and would make it feel less like a Disney Channel original movie.
This isn’t the only way the film feels like a made for TV movie through, a certain character also backs up this compansion. A chique bully, Victoria, played by Rowan Blanchard, is introduced at the start of the film and is by far the worst character in the film. Meg is already dealing with the loss of her loving father. The addition of a bully feels completely unnecessary and if she was cut out entirely it wouldn’t affect any overarching plot lines, in fact this explains why she wasn’t at all a part of the original book. The writers attempt to give her some depth by showing the internal problems she is struggling with. While I understand their intentions and this idea makes sense on paper, it only serves to frustrate as it still doesn’t justify her cruel actions towards Meg. This leads into my biggest issue with the film I’ve noted several times up to this point, the writing. Almost everything from the villain to the forced inspirational messages to the basic dialogue itself is filled with problems.
A Wrinkle in Time lacks a genuine villain for the majority of its run time, the only threat in the film is called “The It” and sometimes “The Darkness.” It’s a big grey cloud in the sky that makes people sad, pretty anticlimactic. The amorphous blob of evil works in several different ways, at least one of which was legitimately entertaining to me. The story is almost impossible to get invested in though, when the main threat is so boring for almost the entire film. Not to mention it leads to several cringeworthy lines such as “You must become light to defeat the dark.” The dialogue ranges from genuinely emotional like the scenes between Meg and her father, to laughable, which often come from Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, or Mindy Kaling. I can’t menton too many other laughable lines of dialogue without getting into spoiler territory, but rest assured there are plenty. The messages of the film are generic, over the top and have been handled much better in other films. The messages of love, believing in yourself and being perfect just the way you are come off as so heavy handed that it feels like this film was pandering to a much younger demographic than many disney films do nowadays. I understand these are important messages to learn, but there is a wrong way and a right way to convey them.
A Wrinkle in TIme ultimately feels like a mess of a film. While some effects look fantastic on the big screen and the emotional moments between Meg and her father are handled almost perfectly, it can’t make up for the many faults that are also present. I would be able to look past some bad visual effects, a grating soundtrack, questionable cinematography choices and several bad performances, but the script drags this film down to an unwatchable level. I hope Ava DuVernay can bounce back with her next film as I do believe she is a talented director but her abilities cannot shine through an unusable script.