MOVIE REVIEW: Oprah epic Disney banked $100 million on
IF I had paid more attention in science class I could make some insightful analogy about the connective tissue of the universe (Atoms? Cells? Unicorn dust?) and how A Wrinkle in Time could've been a great movie if only it had more of it.
As it is, the big budget Disney flick starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine unevenly ambles along with a nice message about families, love and self-acceptance, sprinkled with some visually spectacular sequences but is ultimately unsatisfying for anyone over 15 years old.
The thing to note about A Wrinkle in Time is that it is very much a children's film, not just geared towards kids but delivered in such an earnest way that adult audiences will find its total lack of cynicism jarring and unrealistic. And as much as it could appeal to the child within, for many of us, we're too far gone to really embrace its approach.
Based on Madeleine L'Engle's popular 1962 children's novel, the fantastical film has been hyped up as a significant work thanks to the $100 million budget given to an African-American female director, Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th), with an African-American female, Storm Reid leading a diverse main cast.
Young teen Meg Murry (Reid) is often reprimanded for being disengaged and sullen since her father, NASA scientist Alex (Pine), disappeared four years earlier. Alex and his wife Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) had been working on the idea that you could travel through space and time with your mind if you find the right frequency when he vanished.
One day, Meg's adopted six-year-old brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) introduces her to a trio of supernatural beings, the luminous and presumptive Mrs Whatsit (Witherspoon), the enigmatic Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and the wise and godlike Mrs Which (Winfrey). The three women tell Meg her father is trapped in time and space and needs her help.
The group, along with school friend Calvin (Australian actor Levi Miller), an easygoing popular kid with his own demons, "tesser" first to a distant planet called Uriel. These scenes were filmed in Wanaka on New Zealand's South Island and they look incredible. The already majestic landscape looks to have been overlaid with what may be the subtlest of a shimmer and it just glows. Book a ticket and take me there now.
On Uriel, they learn that Alex has become prisoner of a malevolent force called the "IT", which represents all the evil in the universe, which is when Mrs Which confesses they need Meg to not just find her dad but to be a warrior against the "IT" to stop it spreading across the universe. Earth is already under attack with a rise in mistrust and insecurity driven by fear.
When Mrs Which talks, it feels exactly like Oprah standing on stage, any stage, speechifying on any given day, that beatific expression on her face all too familiar. Depending on your perspective, the casting of Oprah was either inspired or on-the-nose. When the almost omniscient Mrs Which implores Meg to find the best part of herself by harnessing strength and love to bring back hope, there is no separating Winfrey from her character, she's just in a more elaborate costume.
Of the other actors, Witherspoon pops off the screen with her irrepressible energy while young Reid is the perfect combination of vulnerability and defiance. But Kaling was short-changed - her character makes little impression and is too thinly formed to take advantage of the writer/actor's presence and talents. Pine's Alex was also inconsistently written.
There's no doubt DuVernay has composed a beautiful to look at film, from the sequences on Wanaka with its colourful, "gossipy" flowers to the Stepford-esque suburban nightmare on Camazotz, the "IT's" planet. And she certainly knows how to frame a shot - divine close-ups for those intimate moments makes it all worth it.
But the film doesn't flow. Each set-up feels like it would work better as a vignette than as part of a whole. A Wrinkle in Time starts off strong but around the midpoint, it starts to drag and you find yourself not caring so much about what happens to any of the characters except for Meg, especially after one of them is "turned" to the other side and becomes insufferable.
A Wrinkle in Time is a sensible movie to take a kid to because it does have those all-important messages about believing in yourself, wrapped in an easy to digest battle between good and evil - and you can't argue against its references to Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. But anyone older may grate against its mainly heavy-handed approach.
A Wrinkle in Time is in cinemas now.
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