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Dustin Putman

A Wrinkle in Time  (2018)
3 Stars
Directed by Ava DuVernay.
Cast: Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, Andre Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Yvette Cason, Will McCormack, Bellamy Young, Conrad Roberts, Daniel MacPherson, Lyric Wilson, David Oyelowo.
2018 – 109 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for thematic elements and some peril).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, March 7, 2018.
A sumptuous, largely faithful adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic 1962 fantasy novel, "A Wrinkle in Time" bursts forth with idiosyncratic visual wonders and passionate, deep-seated messages of self-worth. As a filmmaker, Ava DuVernay (2014's "Selma") brings everything she's got to the projects she works on. The proof is up on the screen and in the empowering fabric of the material. Jennifer Lee (2013's "Frozen") and Jeff Stockwell's (2007's "Bridge to Terabithia") screenplay must have been challenging to crack, but it, too, holds a modern-day immediacy which somehow proves both timeless and specifically a product of the here and now. Watching the film in all its oddball, ungainly glory, taking our protagonists across space and time to idyllic utopias and foreboding places of evil, one imagines it cannot be far off from what a David Lynch family feature might look like.

It has been four years since 13-year-old Meg Murry's (Storm Reid) beloved astrophysicist father Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) mysteriously disappeared. As hope in finding him has begun to dwindle, Meg's bright inner light has also dimmed considerably. Her grades have dropped, she has trouble fitting in with her peers, she must constantly contend with bullying classmate Veronica (Rowan Blanchard), and she immediately discounts any compliment she receives. It is a dark and stormy night when the curious Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), claiming to be a friend of Meg's prodigious 6-year-old brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), shows up in their home, confirming to Meg's bewildered mother, Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), that there is such a thing as a tesseract. Before he went missing, Alex had been close to a scientific breakthrough proving that people need only their minds to create a portal through which they can travel to other planets in other galaxies. Guided by the three shape-shifting Mrs.—the cheerful, unfiltered Mrs. Whatsit, the quotation-reciting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and the sage-like Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey)—Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg's classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) will embark on an adventure across the cosmos to find their dad. Danger lurks on their journey, however, in the form of an invading evil known as The It.

Watching "A Wrinkle in Time" is like getting a rainbow injected into your eyeballs, and liking it. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, this is a gorgeous feast to gaze upon, full of fantastical new worlds and awesome special effects. Happy flashbacks to 1984's wonderful "The Neverending Story" arrive often, from the opening camera shot of drifting through clouds, to a buoyant sequence where the three children fly on the back of a gentle, protective creature reminding of Falcor, to the villain arriving in the form of a nefarious force engulfing the world called The It/The Nothing. Parallels are likely accidental—if anything, the 1979 novel of "The Neverending Story" may or may not have been inspired by L'Engle's work—yet there is still the sense that their respective cinematic renderings somehow share a strand of DNA. Mixing darkness with enchantment and layering on top the resonant paths Meg and Calvin take toward embracing who they are while standing up for what they believe in, DuVernay provides eloquent universal lessons about acceptance and the power of one's own strength without making it feel like a sermon. She's simply too sincere, and the points she is making too valid, to discount her or the film's noble heart.

Storm Reid (2013's "12 Years a Slave") is a miraculous Meg Murry. One glance and the viewer is instantly on her side. Reid has plenty of illustrious co-stars to back her up, but she leads the charge; the story is told almost exclusively from her point-of-view, and the transformation she experiences from a doubting, misunderstood middle-schooler with low self-esteem into someone who learns to love herself while using her brain and her selflessness to save the day makes an emphatic impact. As Meg's irrepressible little brother Charles Wallace, newcomer Deric McCabe exhibits an almost preternatural confidence that is just right for the part. Levi Miller (2015's "Pan"), as Meg's new friend Calvin, is wide-eyed and likable; there is a soulfulness to him as an actor that proves winning even for viewers who remember his creepy turn as a homicidal babysitting charge in 2017's Yuletide horror pic "Better Watch Out" and may be half-expecting him to pull out a knife at any second.

As the trio of Mrs., Reese Witherspoon (2015's "Hot Pursuit") is a chipper, funny standout as Mrs. Whatsit, perhaps her greatest achievement being the halo of not-of-this-world-but-still-of-this-world mysticism which hangs over her presence. As Mrs. Who, Mindy Kaling (2012's "The Five-Year Engagement") is restricted by what she can say—her character speaks only in historical and pop-cultural quotes of wisdom—but through this potential hindrance she proves all the more unique. Oprah Winfrey (2013's "Lee Daniels' The Butler") completes the coven as Mrs. Which, a larger-than-life figure who for part of the film is literally larger than life. Has there ever been more fitting casting? The notable supporting players are rounded out by Chris Pine (2017's "Wonder Woman") and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (2018's "The Cloverfield Paradox"), bringing pathos and love to Meg's parents; Michael Peña (2015's "The Martian") as the enigmatic Red, who meets the children on their quest; and Zach Galifianakis (2013's "The Hangover Part III") as the Happy Medium, his appearance the only one calling attention to itself in a negative way. Whereas all the other performers organically fit into the film's tapestry, Galifianakis almost feels like he's wandered in from a different set.

"A Wrinkle in Time" is a winning, offbeat entertainment with a level of conceptual ambition that may challenge younger viewers in a positive way. Even if they are unable to follow all the abstract ins and outs about tesseracts and fifth dimensions and, yes, wrinkles in time, they should be mesmerized. Were this film released in the 1980s, it would have likely become an inspiring childhood favorite along the lines of "Labyrinth," "The Goonies," and the aforementioned "The Neverending Story," so chances are it may serve the same purpose for this generation. The film is a heartfelt sight to behold, bursting with otherworldly vistas, a few threatening moments of necessary intensity, and an all-reaching hopefulness that good deserves to always prevail. For a picture endeavoring to do so much, it is understandable that it isn't wholly successful all of the time. The beguiling Mrs., when they exit the proceedings for an extended period in the second half, are instantly missed, while the closing moments strive for a soaring sentimentality the film only half-grasps. Ultimately, these are minor debits next to the imagination on display and the audacious chances DuVernay takes. Reverence to L'Engle's work is apparent, yet DuVernay's social sensibilities are not misplaced. In short, she makes it her own, finding deeper meaning in each surprising new moment.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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