by Kirby Plando (Class 2020)
dir: Ava DuVernay
Despite having so much potential and so many good things going for them, films don’t always turn out the way we hope they would.
In A Wrinkle in Time, the adaptation of the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, there’s always been the fear that the material is unfilmable. I myself have yet to read the book, but there’s always been talk of how its symbolisms and narrative presentation don’t particularly translate well to the medium of cinema. Ava DuVernay, a more than credible filmmaker given her work on the Oscar-nominated Selma (2014), could only do so much to pull off a story with a reach that undoubtedly exceeds its grasp.
Meg Murry, our lead character, is a bit of an outsider. The disappearance of her father four years ago by mysterious circumstances profoundly affected how she views herself and how she deals with others. One day, mysterious forces in the form of the three Mrs. appear in her home and inform her of the truth behind her father’s predicament. She then decides to embark on a quest to bring him back, and in doing so face not only the rising darkness that threatens the universe, but also the doubts and insecurities residing within her.
That last bit is the most interesting part that the film touches on: the struggles that can come with being human beings and how we learn to deal with them. This is reflected in our characters: the girl ostracized for not fitting into conventions of popularity, the man and his wife ridiculed by the scientific community for their farfetched claims, the adopted and misunderstood child prodigy, the boy struggling against his father’s iron fist, and even some of the minor roles are a reflection of our daily struggles with the norm. The decision to have a mostly racially diverse cast is also an inspired choice, as it further embodies those who don’t always find ways to fit perfectly into society.
DuVernay’s direction shines in these moments, where characters learn to accept themselves for who they are and to use their flaws as sources of strength. The camerawork prefers closeups of faces, as if inviting one to feel what the characters feel, and the song choices speak of hope rooted in embracing one’s self-confidence. The film is at its best when it focuses on intimate emotions and the power of connection, of love rooted in family ties overcoming one’s feelings of isolation. Even if it does take a while before Storm Reid really grows on you as a heroine, and child actor Deric McCabe has obvious difficulties at carrying the weighty demands of his role, the performances are mostly up to par for this purpose.
Unfortunately, the film is occupied with being more than just some simple emotional affair. There’s nothing wrong with the big blockbuster film that A Wrinkle in Time wants to be, but it just doesn’t manifest into anything particularly interesting. Coming from a studio known for its knack of using the wide-eyed lens of childhood innocence to its advantage, the film lacks a sense of wonder that should have pervaded the moment the film starts to flaunt its big budget spectacle. It’s just hard to connect with its concepts and how it uses them, the crucial anchor that would’ve kept all of its CGI and special effects from becoming just mere eye candy.
“Tessering”, and the world-building that comes with it, relies on a marriage of science fiction and fantasy that doesn’t entirely work. In between all the film’s whimsy is a desire to be technical about things, and the constant urge of the film to explain itself comes off as jarring rather than as clever uses of its science. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), criticized it was for its lack of heft, at the very least commits to its kooky phantasmagoria. In A Wrinkle in Time’s case, while the visuals don’t necessarily have to stand on their own, all the needless complexity betrays its juvenile sensibilities and hinders it from becoming something simple yet truly magical.
To be fair, the film showcases a lot of inventive uses of color and space, and DuVernay deserves credit for bringing to life what were merely abstract images in the original prose. However, there is only so much one can do given the sense of aimlessness. There are some noteworthy scenes, especially towards the end, but for the most part the film staggers through its plot towards its conclusion, going through the motions of a story that could’ve been more impactful had its poignancy not been offset by a general lack of clarity.
Overall, A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t quite come together in a satisfying way. Everything just seems to be all over the place, signs of a vision that couldn’t keep up with its own aspirations or of possible conflicts in interest behind-the-scenes. Whatever the context may be, it’s sad to see such potential get trapped in a mess of grand ideas that never fully come into fruition. Though some strong character aspects shine, everything gets lost amidst all the ambition and vibrant spectacle. Disney does not win this one.
Photo courtesy of Kasey Moore from the article “Here’s When Disney’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Will be on Netflix” from https://www.whats-on-netflix.com/news/heres-when-disneys-a-wrinkle-in-time-will-be-on-netflix/