Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Wrinkle In Time Tends to Stumble But It Also Tends To Inspire Mightily

The best part about A Wrinkle In Time is that it certainly maintains the weirdness of the source material it's adapting. Those worried that Madeleine L'Engle's original novel would be translated to the silver screen with all of it's more unusual tendencies ironed out can relax, director Ava DuVernay's adaptation of this book certainly does not reduce L'Engle's work to being a Hunger Games or Harry Potter knock-off. In the process of adapting such an unorthodox piece of literature, you get a movie that has a far bolder vision than your run-of-the-mill live-action family movie and thoroughly successful elements to its name while also having its fair share of stumbles along the way.

Our lead hero for A Wrinkle In Time is Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a young girl who has a high intellect but has found herself being withdrawn and frustrated at the world around her ever since her father, Alex Murry (Chris Pine), vanished four years ago. Her younger brother, child prodigy Charles Wallace Murry (Deric McCabe), begins to introduce Meg to some high-powered beings by the name of Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Though seemingly just oddball individuals gussied up in stunning looking costumes, it turns out these three have the power to help Meg find her father who has inadvertently teleported to a dark evil presence known as The It.

From there, Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg's friend Calvin O'Keefe (Levi Miller) travel with this trio of cosmic entities across the galaxy in search of Meg's father in an adventure that's heavy on quirky escapades that frequently mix together cosmic and fantasy elements as well as even sprinkling in a dash of horror movie vibes for certain moments. The fact that the story is so fully embracing of any outlandish scenario that crosses its path is a major reason why A Wrinkle In Time managed to work for me. This is not a production looking to be down-to-Earth, no no, this is a movie where Oprah Winfrey with glitter on her face balances on a crystal while talking to meditative Zach Galifianakis about the dangers of an evil cosmic entity.

We're firmly in weirdo fantasy/science-fiction zone here, the kind of place The Wachowski's or Andrew Stanton's John Carter called home, and that's the kind of area of storytelling I can be a sucker for when it's done right (even The Wachowski's weren't able to make Jupiter Ascending fully work). Luckily, A Wrinkle In Time is able to handle these heightened elements well, especially on a visual level since the majority of the various cosmic entities and settings are rendered in high levels of colorfulness that are gorgeous to look at. Plus, the variety of adult actors also toss themselves fully into the quirky scenario to delightful results, especially Oprah Winfrey whose pitch-perfect casting for the part of a wise trustworthy mentor for a very good reason.

The best of the actors here is handily Storm Reid as Meg, she's incredibly gifted as a performer in terms of lending a sense of reality to this character's isolated nature while she absolutely sells a number of key emotional moments in the climax, one of which (and people who have seen this movie will know exactly which moment I'm talking about) is especially emotionally devastating. Storm Reid is fantastic, as are the visuals and a number of facets of A Wrinkle In Time, but like many highly ambitious genre-blending efforts, this is far from a perfect production. Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell's script suffers from clunky over-expository dialogue, especially in the first act, while a couple of key character arcs feel underdeveloped (Levi Miller's character is a good example of this). 

We also get a number of pop songs played at certain points in the movie that feel haphazardly inserted into the proceedings. If these tunes were going to be in the film, fine, but they needed to be incorporated better and not feel like such an afterthought. Also, while the camerawork is overall solid and there's a number of excellent & memorable shots in A Wrinkle In Time, the first half of the film way overuses close-up shots in what feels like an attempt to create a visual motif but all it does is instill a visually claustrophobic aesthetic during scenes that should instead clearly be inspiring fantastical senses of awe. 

Aside from that weird visual decision though, Ava DuVernay's fares quite well behind the camera here especially in terms of how she shows a lot of distinctive vision in her depictions of fantasy realms. Best of all, she's able to make sure that the big emotional moments in her newest movie that need to work (namely, Meg's arc) do work and left myself feeling inspired and hopeful just as the film intended. How nice that a big-budget fantasy movie ends not with hordes of armies charging at each other in bloody combat but rather in an ode to hope, love and self-confidence. A Wrinkle In Time is clunky in a number of respects, but overall, I would say it manages to be better than average modern-day live-action family movie fare mainly because it manages to land those big pivotal emotional moments. If the rousing applause from the horde of youngsters at my screening are any indication, Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle In Time is especially gonna work like gangbusters for the audience it's targeted at.

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