Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: "A Wrinkle In Time" is a mismatched quilt featuring spectacular visuals and miscast actors.

A Wrinkle In Time Review
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher taught us Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time and I also got my first case of reading Roald Dahl it was a pretty strange year for reading during that school year. I don't know how many of you read A Wrinkle In Time and if you did, if you remember it. But was actually a pretty creepy book and there was a strange feel that I am sure was entirely for children to read. That's not to say that I didn't find the story fascinating, because I certainly thought the book was that. There was an interesting blend of the fascinating, the captivating and the strange all in one story and just how blissfully L'Engle blended science with religion. It was an amazing story, but it was an odd story and while I dreamed of seeing a movie version of it, I never really knew if it would work.

There are those who do argue that any book can be adapted into a movie. But after Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" and now Ava DuVernay's "A Wrinkle In Time" I think that there are some books in this world that are impossible to properly adapt. There was something about how L'Engle used language in her original book that was a blast to read, but I could never picture it translating to a bigger screen and I seem to be dead-on in that regard. Snyder and DuVernay made two wildly ambitious movies and there are some great moments and great ideas in both films. But both also ultimately feel limp as experiences. 

If you never read A Wrinkle In Time its a coming-of-age story (of sorts) about Meg Murphy. A teenager who is really beginning to materialize into the adult she is going to be. She's tip-toes the line between being a pain for her teachers and being a great student and she's never really been the same ever since her father mysteriously disappeared. Soon, she is visited by three incredibly strange women who transport Meg, her supernatural brother and the equally mysterious Calvin across the universe. Meg eventually finds her father and breaks him free by the bonds of The IT, a powerful evil entity.

I had never heard of Stormy Reid before seeing this movie, but I can see that she is a bright young performer. She brings an undeniable sweetness and an organic vulnerability to Meg Murphy. If Reid is planning on acting as a full-blown career then be prepared to see her name in many things in the unforeseeable future. She brings lots of talent to her first major role and she can believably play smart and resourceful. Young girls will go see this and feel empowered that someone so young can be so smart and so powerful with their reasoning. Because that's not always the case for children in movies, and Reid brings her A-game to the role. Charles Wallace, Meg's brother, is possibly one of the creepiest children in the history of popular culture, and Deric McCabe is equally powerful here. He brings Charles Wallace to an amazing life here and there were moments where I was downright shaking as he shambled about.

There is also something special about how DuVernay handles special effects in the film. In this day and age, it seems almost impossible to see something new. It seems like visual effects supervisors seem to pull from the same bag of tricks, showing us the same type of effects over and over again. There are visual effects moments in this film that redefine the incredible and DuVernay truly does something new with the visuals here. It's amazing to behold. Much like Peter Jackson created a believable, lived-in world with Middle Earth in "Lord of the Rings," DuVernay has created a wholly original world.

I wish I could say that Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey are great as the Miss's, but I think each of them is willfully miscast here. When Witherspoon's Mrs. Whatsit appears, it should have been creepy, but she seems to be overacting here and every beat is distracting. Mindy Kaling seems to be unable to do anything outside of her wheelhouse, and her Mrs. Who is a dud. Then there is Mrs. Which and Winfrey seems to be unable to really hide her Oprah persona at all in this movie. Sure, she displays a great degree of warmth in the role, but its too much Oprah and not enough otherworldly essence, which I thought was a mistake.

You can either shoot yourself in the foot or come off like a genius when you fill your movie's cast up with A-List actors everyone has heard of. Sometimes, you can run the risk of your movie feeling like an actor's catwalk instead of an actual movie. In this movie, Zach Galifinakis appears, and so does Michael Pena. And Chris Pine, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw and David Oyelowo and Andre Holland. Each and every one of them is more of a distraction than a big casting by DuVernay. None of them really display much past their usual personas that it feels like a lot of hot air. Not trying to say that I don't like any of those actors, because I definitely do, but I much like raw acting in a movie instead of movie stars behaving like movie stars.

I would have loved to see an independent version of this story coming to life. One that wasn't tied down by the biases of a studio. I think the Disney brand kind of hurt this adaptation, because there is always a feel-good quality to much of Disney and I think that hurts what could have been a more decent adaptation. I think DuVernay took some big chances here, and I think some of those chances pay off. But sadly this just feels like more Disney fluff, which is not the feeling you should get from a "A Wrinkle In Time" adaptation. She picked a stellar young cast, and I can't wait to see what each of these young actors do in the future, and I am a bit baffled that its the veteran cast that fumbles the ball so dearly here. There is so much to love about this movie and yet so much that kind of stinks that is a lovely frustration of a movie. But I am curious to see what DuVernay does the next time she steps up to make a blockbuster.

FINAL GRADE: C+   

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