Wow, I sure did want to like A Wrinkle in Time. On the surface it has everything going for it. Classic story, inclusive cast, big action, special effects bonanza, Hollywood darling-director Ava DuVernay, Captain Kirk, Reese Witherspoon AND Oprah. It also had a hundred and three million dollar price tag. How could it go wrong?
I think I read the book back in the day, but honestly have no memory of it at all. It’s the kind of thing I probably liked as a kid. As faithful readers know, genre fiction floats my boat, especially sci-fi. And a story about kids going to find their scientist dad who happens to be trapped in some other dimension, or space warp or whatever, still sounds cool to me.
If the book actually provides the template for the movie, then I suspect it may be quite dated and preachy. I left the movie theater with no question in my mind as to the message: Love conquers all. Spoiler alert: They say it out loud.
An always-likable Chris Pine plays the scientist-dad opposite Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s scientist-mom. Chris Pine seems more like a ticket-selling marketing ploy, and Mbatha-Raw’s main job is to be sad and watch her sad daughter be bullied. We spend our time with Meg, (newcomer Storm Reid,) a sad-sack kid mourning the loss of her dad (he wrinkled into space and was captured by the “IT.”) For reasons unclear to me, she is bullied at school for … well being sad about losing her dad. Even her teachers tell her she needs to get over it and move on.
Now, in general I hate “movie bully’s.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like them in real -life either, but in movies they ALWAYS take on this old notion of physically and emotionally tormenting a kid, following them around the school to effect said torment, and never getting caught while simultaneously making it look to every teacher in sight that they are the good guys and the poor oppressed kid is the problem. Even movies I love do this … Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, last year’s Wonder, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and on and on. It’s a maddening trope that is barely tolerable in good films, much less a mess like Wrinkle in Time.
I taught high school for a few years, and virtually all the bullying I saw was much more insidious and sneaky than the mean-for-the-sake-of-being-mean abuse conducted in all these movies. While I am sure this happens to some kids, I suspect the vast majority of bullying is much more nuanced and subtle than what we get here.
And I have literally never seen a kid bullied for being sad about a dead parent. My little rant here brings me to the real problem: This film rides the tropes all the way home. Unrealistic bullying, weird and useless advice from inconsequential characters, pretentious metaphors about life, the threat of the “darkness,” and worst of all the laziest writing trick in the book: It can all be solved in two seconds because “love conquers all if only you can love enough and not give up on that love no matter what happens.”
Several of these absurd tropes manifest at the same time with the arrival of three wise women: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. One of these women is played by Oprah, and as an actress she seems to be channeling herself. All three speak in weird riddles or metaphors or poetic quotations that I’m sure someone thought witty, but just sound pretentious and on-the-nose. They blather on about crazy concepts like free will and love and darkness and evil.
The film is filled with color and fantastical landscapes and costumes. At first I thought, well, at least it’s visually kind of fun, but the more these characters talked, the worse the movie looked: a re-learning of the lesson that special effects cannot make up for a shitty script. At one point Mrs. Whatsit turns into some CGI flying eucalyptus leaf, the kids climb on top of her, rub Oprah’s face and fly around a big green valley for ten minutes and go … nowhere. I am not even kidding. They land, and then zap off to the next destination. Still looking for the IT and daddy, but no clue as to progress made or lost.
That brings me to my biggest complaint … in the process of looking for long lost daddy our characters go from one wrinkle in space-time to the next, like half a dozen episodes of a bad CW show. I honestly can’t remember what even happened. Lot’s more talking about darkness and flaws and love. The episodic nature of this “story” makes it feel like a big budget Hallmark Channel movie. This was actually my same complaint about DuVernay’s Selma … nothing is motivated. Everything just happens, and then more stuff happens. Because, well, I guess that’s the way stories work.
At one point the Mrs. characters are “fading” because they are in a bad place (nevermind that they are pretty much gods and the kids are just mere humans), so before they fade completely away they give Meg some gifts: a pair of glasses that see through the wrinkles in the universe (where were these earlier in the film?), her faults (you know … sadness over lost daddy,) and a command to “stay together.”
Again, minor spoiler warning. I can’t really talk about this without giving a little something away. Dad needs to be rescued from the “IT.” The glasses let her see something to help her find her father. Why did these glasses not work for the Mrs? Why do they work for Meg? Why is she special? What is her power? Well, according to the film, the answers to these questions are her faults and her love. Oh yeah — and love is always there even if we can’t see it. I don’t get it. Apparently only Meg has love because the other characters are nowhere to be seen at this point. And why do these qualities allow her to battle the most powerful evil force in the universe? Ugh …whatever.
So — surprise — in the end I did not like this movie. And I really just didn’t care one bit about any of these characters. I give A Wrinkle in Time 2 wrinkled up pieces of laundry out of 10 sparkly clean and poofy movie costume gowns.