Was A Wrinkle in Time intended to be a rainbow-coloured nightmare for children – like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal, but with an obnoxiously bright palette? The Day-Glo aesthetic in director Ava DuVernay’s mega-budget family film is like a character itself. A character with, of course, no lines of dialogue, unlike the many babbling seers who strut their hour upon the filmmaker’s ultra-fluorescent stage, delivering gooey turns of phrase with suspicious conviction, like late night TV preachers or self-help gurus.
The film is overloaded with pseudo profound, pie in the sky waffle.
“The only thing faster than light is the darkness,” says Oprah Winfrey, who plays the celestial being Mrs. Which. She is dressed sensationally in armour-like garb and spiked jewellery, with gold lipstick and hair shaped in a frightening interpretation of geometric art. Mrs. Which is one of three warriors who “serve the good and the light of the universe.” The screenplay (by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s novel) goes on and on and on about the bloody light and the darkness. The film is overloaded with pseudo profound, pie in the sky waffle.
The premise of the story, humourlessly reiterated in one scene by a radio news bulletin in the background, involves a missing man “who believed he could travel the universe with his mind.” That man is the flaky academic Dr. Alexander Murry (Chris Pine), determined, as he puts it, to “shake hands with the universe.” He ends up more like the universe’s jilted lover, thrown into a psychedelic, far-flung, transdimensional corner of the space-time continuum, by some malevolent entity.
Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) cab transform into a beautiful flying green creature…like a dragon crossed with an eel crossed with a piece of cabbage.
Murry’s children, 13-year-old Meg (Storm Reid) and her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) go looking for him, accompanied by Calvin (Australian actor Levi Miller, from Red Dog: True Blue and Jasper Jones). They are assisted by the aforementioned mealy-mouthed warriors, so preoccupied with sounding wise they quickly turn to pilfering Shakespeare. Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) speaks only in quotes, and Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) has a handy ability to transform into a beautiful flying green creature, which looks like a dragon crossed with an eel crossed with a piece of cabbage.
The group astral project to a distant planet called Uriel, where the grass is AstroTurf green, the water is aqua blue, and giant Chupa Chups-shaped floating islands hang in the air. This scene struck me as like a set piece from a Vincent Ward film (i.e. What Dreams May Come) but covered in bubble wrap. Or a gaudy, counterfeit Miyazaki moment – the strangeness of the world never given as much priority as the lustre of the visual effects. Various locations are visited, with a general feeling that the writers, despite their literary source material, are making things up as they go along, internal logic not so much limited as virtually non-existent.
At one point it is announced that the characters will make their way to a placed called the “Happy Medium.” My mind instantly returned to “The Medium Place” from TV’s The Good Place, imagining a cameo from its cocaine-craving sole resident Mindy (Maribeth Monroe). Alas, instead, in A Wrinkle in Time we discover Zach Galifianakis in a dress, with a braided man bun. The aforementioned Medium Place from The Good Place was borne of compromise, after representatives from heaven and hell thrashed out an agreement. Mindy gets her favourite beer, but it’s always warm. She has access to music, but only live versions performed by The Eagles.
There’s many pretty pictures but the thinnest of storylines.
A Wrinkle in Time, also, is nothing if not a work of compromise. There’s many pretty pictures but the thinnest of storylines. The film has a ethnically diverse and charismatic cast, playing characters who are delivery systems for hammy dialogue and cut-rate philosophising. There are flickers of bold authorship in DuVernay’s direction (she also directed the excellent Martin Luther King biopic Selma), but it is constantly tempered by the homogenising hand of the studio. Finally, it is a new mega-budget movie that, refreshingly, isn’t a sequel, prequel, remake or spin-off. But praising it on his level – by virtue of its own existence – would constitute faint praise indeed.
In a weird sort of way, A Wrinkle in Time – which marks the first time a woman of colour has directed a Hollywood movie with a budget in excess of $100 million – resembles an enormously expensive video art installation project (viewing it this way would also provide the perfect justification to turn down the volume, neutralising all that icky dialogue). There is no sense of dramatic stakes; no meaningful expression of what the kids are really fighting for. Just a basic message about a misty-eyed young girl who misses her father.
This message is both convoluted by the hyper-coloured embroidery, and crudely simplified, basic behaviour regarded with absolute reverie so the film can demonstrate its good-heartedness. For showing such devotion to her father, and for being such a ‘bright light’ (again with the light!) Meg is informed that she belongs to a pantheon of brilliant human beings, up there with Einstein and the like. Really? Up there with Einstein? This moment is sure to be one of the stupidest, but best intentioned, scenes in cinema this year.