It’s been a minute since the novel A Wrinkle In Time was published by author Madeleine L’Engle…56 years to be exact. A film version of the novel has always been thought to be a difficult adaptation, as the novel is incredibly complex, jumps all over the place and has many layers to peel back. Writers Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) accepted the challenge. Close but no cigar! The writing is drowning in clichés and tries too hard to be inspirational. Luckily, the imagery is picturesque, brought to life by visionary Ava Duvernay (Selma), but she too came up short. Its last hope was the star-studded cast with beloved veteran actors, but even they couldn’t save the film from going up in flames.
A Wrinkle In Time is one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time; there’s a reason why it has been assigned reading for years. Its themes are powerful: the difference between good and evil; the importance of accepting one another; and the power of love to name a few. We’ve seen versions of these themes in countless books, films, television, etc, but it’s the angle from which you attack them that makes all the difference. Take The Lion King for example, another Disney film, of which the writers didn’t make their motives of trying to be inspiring to young moviegoers SO obvious. Instead, the dialogue is indirect and still accomplishes its goal. Lee and Stockwell chose another route. Their writing was painfully obvious, hiding in plain site. They wouldn’t win at hide-and-seek, that’s for sure. Each line was cheesier than the one before, oftentimes cringe worthy. Thankfully there’s still enough substance to prompt meaningful discussions with kids about the critical themes. Give audiences a little more credit to read between the lines, instead of smothering us, and not letting us come up for air.
Hollywood didn’t know what hit them when Ava Duvernay came on the scene with her directorial debut of Selma. She is a force to be reckoned with and an inspiration to female filmmakers. This however was not her best work. She’s the first woman of color to be handed a $100MM+ budget film, groundbreaking to say the least, but there’s a big difference between $20MM (Selma) and $103MM. She had everything at her fingertips, but it may have been too much. Visually it’s stunning. VFX took her vision to a world you can only see in your wildest dreams – take one glance at the trailer and you’ll see what I mean. She had a great partner in crime alongside her, cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Beauty and the Beast), who helped bring it to life. The problem is it reeked of desperation to go above and beyond. Ok, but it must at least be riveting? Nope! It’s slooooooooow. Warning: you may need resuscitation. To be clear this wasn’t a huge disaster, but the simple fact is Duvernay fell prey to an over budget film that may not even breakeven at the box office, overly hyped and ultimately not up to par.
Speaking of not being up to par, the cast is everything you could ever ask for and more, but just like the rest of the film, they too tried WAY too hard. Duvernay wanted a multi-racial cast. The lead is 14-year-old Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave) who is now the first young girl of color to lead a big-budget, sci-fi fantasy film. Reid is young and has a lot to learn, but she’ll get there in no time. It’s fair to assume a film will be great when you see Chris Pine (Star Trek), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Michael Peña (Crash) and David Oyelowo (Selma), not to mention powerhouses like Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple), Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) and Mindy Kalig (The Office). I think we can all agree these are ALL incredible actors, but their performances were less than stellar. They had an opportunity to twist the script into something that it wasn’t, but their reenactment of the dialogue was even cornier than the words on paper.
Bottom line: At this point it’s hard to tell where the film went wrong, but it seems its downfall is rooted in the script. No one said this adaptation would be easy – they don’t call it a challenge for nothin. Duvernay stepped up to the plate, but didn’t hit it out of the park. For what it’s worth, there will be plenty of kids who enjoy A Wrinkle In Time and who hopefully internalize the important lessons to be learned from it. As for the adults, expect to be visually impressed, but ultimately disappointed. It’s understandable if you feel compelled to see it on the big screen to get the full effect, but as a whole, it’s a textbook rental.