A mixed bag at best, Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) helms this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic young adult novel “A Wrinkle in Time” which hammers home its (still) powerful message of individuality over conformity while combining it with a potent ‘girls rule’ empowerment message.
On the downside, it does so with blunt force under a crushing wave of eye-candy and mediocre technique. Considering the changes that were made to the story and the schmaltzy platitudes liberally spooned out by screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen”), one gets the feeling that she and the director either didn’t fully grasp the material or didn’t think the audience could.
To make matters worse, it’s hobbled by some surprisingly bad film-making choices. The CGI and production design are shockingly bland. DuVernay relies too much on tight medium shots and close-ups while infrequently making use of an establishing shot to frame a scene. That, combined with some clunky editing, makes for jarring and claustrophobic viewing.
Storm Reid stars as Meg Murry, an awkward 13-year-old whose brilliant scientist father (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago while researching the possibility of using a tesseract to mentally project oneself across the universe. What exactly a tesseract is goes unexplained, because hey, who really needs to know the internal rules of a particular plot device?
Since then, Meg and her adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) have become brilliant-but-misunderstood social outcasts bullied by students and exhorted by adults to accept their loss and move on. Fortunately, generic teen heart-throb Calvin (Levi Miller) is there to constantly assure Meg that she’s perfect in every way, whether she believes it or not.
The same goes for the Missus – Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) – a trio of affirmation-spouting cosmic beings who arrive to help Meg realize her full potential, rescue her father, and save the universe from an entity of ‘purely evil energy’ called The IT. Whatsit is exhaustingly upbeat, Which is talk-show Winfrey in outer space couture, and Who has evolved beyond the need for speech and communicates by dropping self-help quotes likes a walking, talking copy of Bartlett’s.
Which gets us to the crushing flaw of “A Wrinkle In Time”: Almost every scene is so saturated with clumsily delivered ‘believe in yourself’ mantras that it becomes monotonous, meaningless and even creepy. L’Engle’s novel actually subverted this sort of ‘stop being a downer, just smile and get over it’ bulls–t. To see a mega-budget film version turn that into the crux of the story is flat-out depressing, especially when it keeps shoving the movie’s message of empowerment into the background.