In the Limelight

A Wrinkle in Time, the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, has managed to appeal to generations of young readers due to its emotional core and science fiction premise. But the story has long been called “unfilmable.” That clearly didn’t stop Ava DuVernay, who directed the new live-action adaptation of the beloved book.

The story follows the book pretty closely – Meg Murray and her younger brother, Charles Wallace, alongside Meg’s classmate Calvin, embark on an intergalactic journey to seek out Meg’s missing father, Alex. Meg is a bright student, but has been seen as troubled by the teachers at her school due to her grief following her father’s disappearance. A mysterious encounter with the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit leads the kids to discover the ability to instantly travel through space and time by means of a tesseract – something that Alex had been researching before his disappearance.

After first traveling to the beautiful planet of Uriel, the kids learn about the nature of evil in the universe, which is controlled by a being known simply as “The It.” The It spreads darkness throughout the universe, infecting sentient beings and amplifying negativity to create strife. The kids learn that Alex has been trapped on the planet of Camazotz, the central home of The It, where he is unable to tesser away due to the darkness present there. Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace travel to Camazotz, but their bonds are put to the test when Charles Wallace gives his mind over to The It. Meg must then not only save her father, but must also get through to Charles Wallace and break the spell.

Overall, the film does a perfectly adequate job at adapting the source material. Clocking in at just under two hours long, it manages to cover a lot of the most important elements of the story. However, likely due to time constraints, A Wrinkle in Time leaves out what I’d consider to be some of the most poignant scenes from the book as well as some of the more crucial information about Charles Wallace’s character.

In the books, Charles Wallace is said to have some limited psychic abilities, such as the power to read other people’s minds – it’s this ability on top of his prodigious intelligence that draws him to The It, and it’s why he willingly allows The It to take over his mind. Unfortunately, this is never really explained in the film; he clearly has an effect on people around him and he’s clearly wise beyond his years, but while some hints are given, the film never clearly explains what’s really going on with him.

The film adaptation also leaves out the events that take place on Ixchel completely, though the planet and the Beasts that live there are given a brief cameo early in the story. In the book, Ixchel is where Meg must come to terms with the fact that the father who she’s idolized for so long is actually not infallible and not the hero that she wanted him to be – skipping this entirely causes the story to lose a lot of the points that the book was able to make.

There is, however, a lot to love about DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, though. There’s somehow not a weak link in the cast whatsoever. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, respectively, are all absolutely delightful in their roles as the kids’ guides across the universe. Meanwhile, the kids themselves – Storm Reid as Meg, Levi Miller as Calvin, and Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace – absolutely steal the show. McCabe in particular will be worth paying attention to likely for years to come; he commanded every scene he was in and was genuinely terrifying when channeling The It. There’s few things quite as scary as a rude little kid with a big vocabulary.

The supporting cast, which included the likes of Chris Pine as Alex Murray (perhaps proving his abilities as the most versatile of the Hollywood Chrises), Zach Galifianakis as the Happy Medium, and Michael Pena as the Man With Red Eyes, all added their own kind of gravity to the scenes they were in. There’s a lot of familiar faces in this film, but none of them really ever took too much attention away from the three kids, who always remained the focus.

Visually, A Wrinkle in Time is stunning. The effects put this movie right up there with Black Panther in terms of how good-looking this film really is. From the lush hills of Uriel to the sterile depths of Camazotz, each area has its own feel that manages to be simultaneously distinct and cohesive. The costume design is also brilliant, particularly with regards to Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, all of whom absolutely slay in both clothing and makeup in every scene they’re in. They manage to look otherworldly while still being very much grounded thanks to the incredible work done on costume and makeup (it would not remotely surprise me if A Wrinkle in Time ended up catching some major award nominations for this stuff specifically).

The book was known for, among other things, its heavy religious themes – Mrs. Who gives Meg a Bible verse as a gift at a point in the original story, and many other verses are referenced throughout. None of that is present in the film, and while many have complained online about it, A Wrinkle in Time isn’t lacking anything for it. Nothing about the story’s core values has been changed by removing the references, and by scrubbing the story of them, it should hopefully appeal to a wider audience.

Overall, A Wrinkle in Time is probably worth a watch, especially if you’re already a fan of the original book. This adaptation stays true to the heart of the story and, despite some issues with the writing and overall pacing, it does a good job at being entertaining for the full 109-minute runtime. It’s definitely a solid science fiction film and a great overall family film with solid acting performances and dazzling visuals. And in an otherwise sparse March film schedule, it might end up being the best watch of the month.

-Carrie Wood