The art of reviewing a children’s film is almost as tricky as the art of making one. It requires you to forget who you are at this point in your life (in my case, a 31 year old man) and see the film through the eyes of your younger self, to receive the film and interpret it the way its intended audience might. A lot of the time this can be difficult - for every ‘Inside Out’ or ‘Spirited Away’, there’s fifty lesser and more forgettable films where seeing through different eyes just highlights their problems tenfold. With director Ava DuVernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ though, doing so is not only imperative to understanding what it’s trying to do, but key to unlocking just what a truly special film it is.
Meg Murray (Storm Reid) has suffered since the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine, ‘Wonder Woman’, the recent ‘Star Trek’ franchise) four years ago. The only person who believes in her is her eccentric little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) - to the point where he volunteers Meg for a mission when three strange women appear, Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey, 'The Butler', 'The Colour Purple'), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling, 'Inside Out', TV's 'The Mindy Project' and the American 'The Office') and Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, TV's 'Big Little Lies', 'Wild', 'Legally Blonde'), beings with the ability to fold space and travel across the universe. Along with new friend Calvin (Levi Miller, ‘Pan’, ‘Better Watch Out’, 'Red Dog: True Blue), they go out into the cosmos in search of Mr Murray before a mysterious dark force swallows everything.
Adapted from the beloved 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is not without some significant faults, primarily the screenplay from Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell. They never quite crack the spine of the film, the narrative feeling episodic and the dialogue hampered with clunky exposition, allowing little room for breathing space. This consequently affects the rhythm of the film, especially in the first act where the concepts of the film are established. However, once you work past these and other flaws, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ blossoms like a flower, revealing what a truly beautiful and meaningful film it actually is.
Executed with grace and imagination, we’re taken on Meg’s hero journey of discovery, cheering her on as she pulls herself out of the despair of loss to realise her incredible potential. You can feel DuVernay pouring so much of her heart into this film, one crafted only to do good in the world, and coupled with her extraordinary and singular vision, she crafts a film as distinct and almost as powerful as ‘Selma’. Representation and female empowerment aren’t token efforts here nor gestures without interrogation, but instead the very heart and soul of the film itself and its message of our shared human experience, coupled with a thirst for what the universe can offer us. DuVernay takes the gaps in the screenplay and spins them into striking impressionistic dreamscapes, with her placement of figures within the frame or the angles she chooses resembling a kind of dream logic, more about emotional and aesthetic impact rather than realism or clear meaning. In the hands of a lesser artist it would all fall into a heap, but DuVernay approaches ‘Wrinkle’ like a piece of music, a series of clear motifs playing against or in harmony with one another to almost symphonic effect.
DuVernay approaches ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ like a piece of music, a series of clear motifs playing against or in harmony with one another to almost symphonic effect.
She also smoothly transitions into big-canvas filmmaking, maintaining her own distinct textures while embracing the pop and pomp of a major Disney film. She finds herself within the machine and in collaboration with her creative team, turn it into something that feels immediate and personal. There are sequences that left me in awe, striking tableaus and uses of colour that feel somewhere between an animated Disney classic and a Jodorowsky or Kubrick film. The use of visual effects can occasionally feel overdone, but when they work, they’re amongst the most beautiful moments of CGI storytelling of the last few years, surpassing anything seen in recent Marvel films. Likewise notable is Ramin Djawdi’s ('Iron Man', TV's 'Game of Thrones' and 'Westworld') soulful and beautiful score, perhaps his best work yet.
It’s also one of the few children films in a long time keenly calibrated to its intended audience. ‘Wrinkle’ handles big themes and concepts while both pitching them at the right level of understanding and never talking down to its audience. The intention of the film is to inspire children to dream and reach for the stars, to not be complacent in the world but to engage and investigate and be a force for change. Again, it wears this on its sleeve, but it does so with such deep conviction that you can’t help feeling the film just might get what it wants. A lot of this comes down to the powerhouse performance from Storm Reid. DuVernay surrounds her with a strong established cast (also including Guba Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña and André Holland), but she steals the film with a performance of great maturity and care, realising Meg’s insecurities and fears without a hint of insincerity, and blossoming when she discovers the hero she really is.
In many ways, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ feels like a film that could only have happened at this moment in history. It feels like a response to Trump’s America, to the threats of walls dividing countries, of Dreamers having their dreams taken away, of children dying in classrooms and of families being torn apart. For all its flaws, it sings out with a beautiful message of hope for the next generation, that they can be better and do better than we have. Ava DuVernay hasn’t made the film for us - she’s made it for them, a gift for those about to take the reigns of a world that feels it might collapse any second. ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is so much more than the sum of its parts, a beautiful made and deeply heartfelt ode to imagination and integrity and the warrior in all of us. As I kid, I would have adored it. As an adult, I most certainly do.