Opening April 5, 2018
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
Writing credits: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Principal actors: Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon,
Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
It’s no easy task adapting a beloved children’s book as a movie, especially one that has been worshipped by generations of young readers. Published in 1962, Madeleine L’Engle’s story A Wrinkle in Time was the first in her series of science fiction novels for children. Initially rejected by more than 25 publishers – who deemed it too complex or too dark for children – the book tackles topics ranging from quantum physics to Christian-infused concepts of pure evil. All of which is to say that director Ava DuVernay and writers Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell had their work cut out in adapting the book as a major movie for Disney. (Disney also produced an earlier made-for-TV movie of the book in 2003 which was met with tepid reactions, not least from L’Engle herself.)
DuVernay made the (much discussed) decision to cast a biracial actress, the excellent Storm Reid, in the role of the main character, Meg Murray, who is white in the novel. Meg is a 13-year old who used to be a happy kid and an excellent student, but now is moody and sullen, bullied at school and deeply unhappy. Meg’s behavior isn’t just ‘typical’ teenage stuff; it’s her reaction to grief: her father (Pine), an astrophysicist who was trying to understand the universe, disappeared a few years ago. Meg’s mother (Mbatha-Raw), who is also a scientist, and her little brother Charles Wallace (McCabe) seem to be handling Mr. Murry’s absence slightly better, but there’s a void in the family. So, Charles Wallace, who is something of a child prodigy, begins communicating with a trio of celestial beings, Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Winfrey), who help the children set off across the universe in pursuit of their father. Without giving too much away, the voyage is filled with fantastical adventures on various planets, tests of courage and of character, slightly ridiculous makeup and far-too-frequent costume changes for the Missus trio, and a conclusion with an uplifting ending appropriate for a young audience.
In fact, the whole movie is overwhelmingly uplifting and positive throughout – almost to a fault. There’s not an ounce of cynicism, which seems strange in a movie geared at older children and “tweens.” Yet DuVernay’s movie succeeds because it is warm and inclusive. It embraces diversity, finds strengths in weaknesses, and presents an empowered young heroine who learns to love herself flaws and all. And there’s Oprah Winfrey playing a time-traveling version of, well, Oprah Winfrey, so of course it’s about empowerment, self-confidence and love conquering all! This movie certainly isn’t edgy, but its sincere, heartfelt message will resonate for many children and their parents alike. (Diana S.)