I read the entire “Time” Quartet more than once growing up, so when I heard the news of an adaptation, I was apprehensive. Then I found out that Ava DuVernay would direct the first novel in the series, A Wrinkle In Time, for Disney. I wasn’t sure what to think about that. From the very serious Selma to sci-fi/fantasy aimed at younger readers? How would a story written before we made it to the moon that is so complicated, that casually throws around words like tesseract, work as an adaptation today? It didn’t work in 2003, and it doesn’t really work now.
Storm Reid plays Meg Murry, a troubled girl who attends James Baldwin Middle somewhere in southern California. She is the daughter of Dr. Murry and Dr. Murry—both parents are very accomplished scientists—and older sister to Charles Wallace. Quite frankly one of the most jarring parts of a modern adaptation is the name Charles Wallace for a 6-year-old boy, and he doesn’t go by any sort of nickname or even just “Charles.” This is where adherence to the book can take you out of the experience of the movie, and considering the substantial changes made for the adaptation, I don’t think there are plans to adapt the sequels.
Meg’s Dad (Chris Pine) disappears one day while working on a special project in his home office and now, four years later, the family has little hope of his return. Except – Charles Wallace has made friends with an eccentric new neighbor who happens to know about tesseracts. It turns out they are real, so cue the fantastic.
Let’s pause. A mysterious adult stranger made friends with a little boy and is in the house without the mother’s knowledge. No one calls the police. No one considers this odd after the stranger says “tesseract.” It’s also creepy that the family dog doesn’t react to this new person. I will accept this as a fantasy element of the story, but maybe they should get an alarm.
Everyone in that scenario is oddly trusting, except, the movie also tells us that Meg has trust issues. The movie shows that Meg is bullied by her peers, teachers, and even the principal of her school. One particularly cruel girl gets a basketball to the face.
In this story, a tesseract is exactly what Dad Murry was studying, and is the “wrinkle” in time that allows for interstellar travel by folding the fabric of space and time. Meg’s Dad is a physicist, and is very enthusiastic about the universe. Her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is more “down to Earth,” focused more on microbiology. Meg’s sort-of friend Calvin shows up and compliments her like seven times. It’s adorably awkward for everyone involved, and then the adventure comes along.
The good news is that Wrinkle is not necessarily aimed at adults, though the cast, including Oprah (Mrs. Which), Mindy Kaling (Mrs. Who), and Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) are more appealing to people who were around in the early-mid 2000s. The movie changes a lot of things that happen in the book and removes a couple characters. That’s par for the course for adaptations of beloved children’s books at this point.
And oh yeah, Disney cast a black girl with natural hair as the lead. That is awesome. It’s the tiniest parts of showing that make the difference: when her hair gets wet or messy, she doesn’t just let it drip-dry, she takes care of it on-screen. It’s not cropped or pulled tight, but you can always see her curl pattern. It moves in the wind, and you can see how it glows brown-red when the sun is behind her. Not a big deal to some people, but natural black hair shown positively on screen matters, especially when it’s on a little girl.
This may be a spoiler: On the flip side there is a scene late in the movie in which it is implied that a version of Meg with straightened hair is the personification of her insecurity. It’s sad. Hair texture does not mean good or bad, and I wish the filmmakers realized that the parallel just doesn’t work that simply. Some of the girls in the audience who are watching the film will inevitably have used Just For Me to “fix” their hair. Considering that the film does tackle tough subjects through the plot, I can’t help but wonder why conquering this “bad” version of herself gets kicked off a cliff rather than embraced with love, as is the message.
Yes, there are bigger things in this that are weird, but I loved seeing Mrs. Whatsit turn into the Queen of Foliage, and 50-foot Queenie Oprah’s voice is the right kind of comfort for the overwhelmed children. I like Mrs. Who. Storm Reid is an alright actress, who brings the range despite some flat jokes and an unnecessarily lengthy yoga sequence (because she needs to learn balance, you see). Chris Pine feels out of place to the point where I felt uncomfortable in his scenes with Storm, it looks as though they shot one of the most important scenes separately.
I think it just comes down to a willingness to surrender to the magic, but it confuses some of the things needed for a movie with what worked best in the book. That said, I don’t think Wrinkle is completely terrible. I think it’s going to please a lot of children, and I think the Foley artists had a ball. But I’m happy to see the film as what it is: a Disney-funded supplement to an excellent novel.