The Story: On the fourth anniversary of a quantum physicist’s mysterious disappearance, his daughter is recruited by time- and space-hopping beings to rescue him. The Lowdown:Ava DuVernay’s clunky but big-hearted adaptation is equal parts Madeleine L’Engle, Zack Snyder and David Lynch, with no single influence or perspective able to take hold and keep the film hanging together.
I’ve begged mainstream children’s and young adult films to get darker and creepier for as long as I’ve been old enough for those films not to be directly targeting me. I’m sure this is common enough a sentiment given sufficient personal remove from any subject or medium. “Everything was cooler when I was a kid.” “They don’t make them like they used to.” Ava DuVernay’s bizarre and meandering A Wrinkle in Time is, unfortunately, the exception that proves this rule. It also serves as an important reminder to be careful what we wish for. And a lot of other cliches, intentional and otherwise.
There are areas where the film excels. The 3D visuals are stunning, at times even surpassing Fury Road, my normal go-to for comparison. And as to that creepiness, the third act features an extended tesseract trip to a place of such surreal and overwhelming evil that it immediately brought to mind Twin Peaks: The Return (the actual best picture of 2017, by the way). The performances from Chris Pine as a missing scientist, Zach Galifianakis as the ancient Happy Medium, and Michael Peña in a role that caught me by surprise for the way it immediately course-corrects several bewildering aspects of the script (and direction) are all fully realized in ways that the rest of the cast struggles with.
Playing as a kid-friendly mashup of Interstellar, Sucker Punch and Lynch while still managing to keep things relatively light, DuVernay throws so much at the screen that the film can barely be contained at times, stretching even simple conversations into such strange blocking patterns that I could swear the film was operating deliberately from the first frame in the logic of a dream. But it’s a dream on the level of random weird ladies showing up, then Oprah Winfrey was twenty feet tall, then you’re on a beach, then your dad was there … eh. All right. But why?
The film isn’t interested. Setting up way too many logical and narrative inconsistencies up front before attempting to explain them away later, the script just can’t keep up with itself after a point. Beautiful and completely engrossing visually, the wooden acting from the majority of the cast and way too many shots of Winfrey gazing beatifically off into the distance keep the film from fully realizing its ambition as being the modern children’s masterpiece it so clearly wants to be. The unusually stilted and awkward direction from DuVernay also doesn’t help, as it becomes difficult to get into the film’s groove before the next clumsy transition or poorly paced expository scene grinds everything to a halt (this happens a lot).
Still, it’s a film that deserves an audience. It’s entirely possible that the unevenness is necessary, perhaps even by design. As main kid Meg (Storm Reid) says at a crucial moment, “I’m messy and uncoordinated. And sometimes I hate myself.” Even more telling, perhaps, is an offering from one of the film’s three big celestial deities: “To you, I give the gift of your faults.”