Review: Ava DuVernay's 'A Wrinkle In Time' Is A Radiant Miracle
There are times in our life where art saves us. Where it feels like a piece of work was made just for you, just for this moment. It feels like a gift and a miracle. Ava DuVernay’s beautiful and gripping A Wrinkle In Time is that miracle.
Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved YA novel, this Disney adaptation follows 13-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) on a space-skipping journey in search of her missing father (Chris Pine). Joining Meg in this quest is her 6-year-old genius brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and a crush-worthy classmate named Calvin (Levi Miller). Leading the way are three magical and wildly stylish warriors named Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling respectively).
I’ve never read the book. So if you want to know how faithful an adaptation this is, look elsewhere. What I can tell you is that DuVernay has brought a level of artistry and emotional intelligence to A Wrinkle In Time that is too rarely bestowed on live-action children’s movies. In those films, it’s almost demanded that cinematography and editing follow the see-and-say standard of commercials: the camera is on the person who is talking. (You see them say things.) But DuVernay trusts her audience, and as characters talk, she lets her camera wander to close-ups of Meg’s fluttering eyelashes or her fraught frown. It gives the film a dreamy atmosphere that urges us to give ourselves over to this fantastical ride. Also, DuVernay regards Meg as a marvel, not an object, but a living breathing wonder. And we see this in this courageous girl long before Meg does.
Meg’s journey is one across the universe. But more keenly, it is one of self-discovery and self-love. Reid is mesmerizing and heart-breaking in the lead role. In the beginning, her slumped shoulders and guarded expression instantly make clear the young heroine’s lack of self-esteem. (We’ve all been that girl at some time or another, and damn if it doesn’t still sting.) As she odysseys through fields of flying flowers, amber-adorned caves, and nightmarish caverns, she confesses her fear that her flaws make her unlovable. This big-hearted movie doesn’t paper over these flaws but confronts them, then dares to suggest Meg deserves love all the same. And when a giant Oprah decked out like a big, beautiful, jewel-encrusted drag queen tells you that you are worthy of love, you listen.
A Wrinkle on Time is boldly, unapologetically earnest in its message: We as people are flawed but worthy of love. We as people must fight the darkness, self-doubt, and fear that threatens to drown us, and bring our best—our light—to the world to make it better. DuVernay took a charming children’s book and turned it into an empowering message of self-love, and a war cry for the Resistance. When Oprah urges Meg to be a warrior, my heart swelled, because it felt like Big Giant Goddess Warrior Oprah was talking to me personally. She was telling me that times may be dark, but I can be light. I can be a warrior. (And you can too!)
Some will snark at this film’s earnestness and sentimentality. To each their own. For me, I spent the first half-hour on the brink of tears because my heart was so full of overwhelming love and hope. Then I broke, and wept openly for the next 79 minutes. I cried for a lot of reasons. I cried because I relate to feeling deeply flawed and hopeless. I cried because I could see how amazing this little girl was, and how her self-doubt was holding her back. I cried because the fashion that costume designer Paco Delgado unfurled across Winfrey, Witherspoon, and Kaling, thrilled me to my core. I cried because I’ve rarely seen in movies a brother-sister relationship or a father-daughter relationship that felt so alive and familiar. And I cried because DuVernay is a master of casting, bringing the best out of every single performer to her fantasy-sci-fi epic.
First off, Reid is a wonder. When she’s launching a dodgeball at the face of a smirking bully, she’s a spitfire you root for. When she’s shrinking at her own shame, your heart aches for her. When she finds her confidence, she makes your heart burst with pride. And in every moment, she is mesmerizing, glowing with a star power uncommon is most child actors. Yet she never comes off as precocious, or cutesy. Reid presents us with a full-bodied heroine and a wobbly but wonderful warrior who will surely inspire countless girls and boys.
Cute and kind, Miller plays Calvin as the perfect vessel for girls to pour their boyfriend wishes into. He will be this generation’s Devon Sawa, a safe and chaste crush that they can cling to when real boys are mean and stupid. Though the youngest of the crew, McCabe pulls an impressive turn as the frightfully smart, compassionate, and sometimes menacing Charles Wallace.
Zach Galifianakis brings an offbeat yet restrained humor as the Happy Medium, while Michael Peña delivers devilish fun as Red. Kaling radiates warmth as the quote-loving Mrs. Who, while Oprah is basically herself times 1000 as Mrs. Which. She is regal, inspiring, gorgeous and body-positive. Witherspoon is pitch-perfect as the impulsive and ditzy Mrs. Whatsit. And shout-out to Moonlight’s André Holland, who pops by for a small role as Meg’s stern principal. Much like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Mrs. Murry, he doesn’t get much to do, but both look gorgeous doing it. And cheers to DuVernay for getting two celebrated Black actors some screentime as caring and smart authority figures.
And now we take a moment for the magic that is Chris Pine. When the trailer for this movie hit, you could hear the collective jaw of thirsty fans drop. DuVernay somehow slapped a sloppy beard, ratty cardigan and vest onto a sneaker-wearing Pine, and made him a total DILF. And she knows it. There’s one shot in particular, where Pine just enters a kitchen, but the way the camera regards him, you know DuVernay knows that women around the world will be saving this image for their romantic fantasies. More than being insanely alluring, Pine delivers a performance as a loving dad that is a real tear-jerker. Whether he’s teaching a younger Meg about the wonders of science and love, or cradling his crying girl as she finds him at the edge of space, he is entirely captivating and shares a vibrant onscreen chemistry with Reid. His big blue eyes, trembling with love and heartbreak, make a plaything of our hearts. And in one climactic scene, he absolutely stops them, leaving us reeling like our dear Meg.
Despite some too-slick CG, and stilted dialogue, I found A Wrinkle in Time utterly divine. Frankly, both felt like the terms of this filmic world. I didn’t mind them and quickly embraced them. This is a rapturous adventure that swept me up, made me laugh, cheer, and cry. With whimsical visuals, a remarkable cast, and a big-thumping heart, this movie made me deeply, deeply happy.
Reflecting on the film, I feel inspired, hopeful, and alive. With A Wrinkle In Time, DuVernay has given a fearlessly emotional and thrilling adventure to the world. I’m grateful that I got to experience its every breath-taking moment. And I can’t wait to share it with my nieces, warriors who bring light to the world with every kiddie cackle and silly face.