'A Wrinkle In Time' was... a trial
After hearing that Ava du Vernay was directing Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon in the upcoming film, I had been very interested. As we waited for the video to load (shoutout to slow internet) we talked excitedly about how quickly we would be going to see it in the cinema in a few months.
The visuals did not disappoint: lots of sweeping shots, everyone seemed to be flying, and there was a sense of wonder permeating the story. I had no idea what the movie would actually be about, but it looked great. Soon after, I made plans to read the source material: Madeleine L'Engle's children's book, also called A Wrinkle In Time.
It was... difficult. I didn't understand what Madeleine wanted me to get from the story: is it about science? Is it about time travel? Is it about religion? Is this a coming of age story? I also couldn't get the images from the trailer out of my mind. The book and the visuals were already too tied up for me.
I didn't finish the book - I skipped one chapter and skimmed through the last two. It left me wondering: did the children it was aimed at really enjoy the dense subject matter that much? What is it about me being 26 years old and only a casual observer of science fiction that makes the book so difficult?
Nevertheless, I was glad I had made an attempt to read the book before seeing the movie. During opening weekend (6 May) I packed my 3D glasses (my relationship to 3D movies is a conversation for another day) and went to the cinema.
I wasn't 100% sold on parts of the movie, but there were some very interesting elements.
I liked the way it looked. There is still something to be said for directors and photographers that can create fantastical worlds and dreamscapes that capture the viewer's attention. The diversity of the cast was also notable: there is no explicit mention of the ethnicity of the characters in the book, so that gave du Vernay licence to create the Murry family, the Mrs and the supporting characters the way she saw fit.
|The cast made valiant efforts with the material they were given.|
The soundtrack kept up with the action, complementing the actors' efforts. Each of the emotional beats hit right when they were supposed to and it was often easy to sympathise with Meg or to root for her brother Charles Wallace.
It felt to me like the translation of the Mrs of Madeleine to the Mrs of Ava was lacking something, especially in Mindy's version of Mrs Who. Elsewhere in the film, it was clear that the book was more inspiration than instruction for what Ava did, which is completely fair. Movie adaptations should not be stilted re-enactments of their source material.
What both the book and the movie failed to do is make me invest in the concept of time travel. Meg's father has disappeared because he evidently got swallowed up by his own idea. The way that she and the Mrs can save him is by fighting some clearly identified but still incomprehensible form of evil. The two elements of the central adventure in the film did not come together for me.
A movie about a young girl going on a (literal) quest to find both her father and her self-confidence has "coming-of-age" written all over it, and there are a few tropes and cliches that are just part of the package. The emphasis on how much of a loner Meg is was disturbing to me. She is constantly in trouble at school and is bullied, but she is smart and has potential. We've heard this story many, many times.
She can barely see herself as a person who can make friends, so of course, she resists the new friendship with a slightly older and cooler boy from her school. He just happens to be on her street and gets scooped up into the adventure, and his presence just grows more irritating from there. He (who is named Calvin) is constantly looking at Meg with soft eyes and saying "encouraging" things like "no, you are the smart one" and "you don't know how beautiful you are, do you?". Calvin is the almost-love interest who "helps" Meg to finish a mission using stuff she "had inside her all along".
For all the cliches in Meg-Calvin, I am glad that the two did not actually kiss. That would have pushed the story into "romantic comedy for babies", and this was a movie about family, for the most part.
But I still rolled my eyes each and every time he looked at her with pity and tried to teach her how to love herself. Blergh.
I was most excited when Oprah materialised on-screen as Mrs Which and when I heard the new Sade song on the soundtrack.
Did I like the movie? No. And not because I have anything against family movies that have children in lead roles going on epic adventures. I just think I was not the target audience for this. I had too many questions, and I couldn't find any answers here.
Go for the Neverending Story visuals, stay for the soundtrack and choose an actor to root for. I suggest Deric McCabe and Zach Galifianakis.