For years I have heard the novel Wrinkle in Time is ‘unfilmable’, and I always wondered if this was true. The book is very special and not something that I fell in love with until I was an adult. It was too out there for me as a child but I read it about 5 years ago and was deeply moved by its story and the journey of forgiveness that Meg goes on.
I have read so many YA novels that have felt cold and cynical (cough Hunger Games cough) but Wrinkle in Time is the opposite. In many ways it is like The Giver, a story infused with hope and a character that comes to see their divine potential. Unfortunately like The Giver, the introspection that makes A Wrinkle in Time work as a novel is difficult to translate to the big screen. I was very hopeful that Ava DuVernay would be able to make it all work but sadly the new film from Disney is a frustrating experience.
A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a girl named Meg (Storm Reid) who’s father has left on a scientific quest and has been gone for 4 years. She has a younger brother Charles Wallace, who is a genius, and a boy named Calvin whom she has a crush on (Calvin is so great in the book but just kind of there in this film). Unfortunately with the loss of her father, Meg struggles to connect with other students, and is angry with her life situation. One day she is surprised by 3 magical visitors, Mrs Witch, Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who, and she is led by them to help rescue her father.
This is all in the movie but it isn’t executed in a compelling way. In the book Meg is forced to make choices that cause her to grow and most importantly forgive. Here she is more told she is great and a warrior but without having to make the hard choices. The ending of the book is much more convincing because it is her choice to confront the evil (even against the advice of others). In this film, it is more like she is presented with images, speeches and emotional things but never grows as a person. She feels the same at the end as at the beginning just more tired.
I said on twitter that it kind of reminded me of a Terrence Malick film but with a scifi story wedged in. I suppose one could go and enjoy A Wrinkle in Time on a visual level like a Malick film but at least his films have consistent characters who you follow throughout the art piece. Here we are introduced to characters that are then given very little to do besides present options to Meg and give speeches.It all becomes kind of tedious and frustrating.
A movie with a similar goal that works way better is 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. This is based off of the Maurice Sendak children’s book and sends its child on an existential fantasy. However, Max is forced as king to make real choices and his character grows so that he’s ready to forgive his Mother at the end of the movie. All the characters in Where the Wild Things Are give speeches but they also are well developed with conflict and personality traits that they struggle with. It makes the existential stuff work because we love the characters so much where A Wrinkle in Time let’s us down in that department.
I might also compare A Wrinkle in Time to 1981’s Time Bandits. Both films are messy and try to offer existential lessons (with similar villains) to kids. However, at least to me, Time Bandits is actually funny which makes it more enjoyable. Kevin has to face off against Evil but that is only after he has proven himself to be the smartest person in several time periods. He actively doesn’t take the advice of those around him but has to figure things out himself, which is very empowering to little kids. By the end, he has become an independent character that is able to see past the greed that blinds so many others and defeat Evil. Time Bandits is also written by the Monty Python folks so it is at least has some humor in its favor.
Sadly A Wrinkle in Time wasn’t able to make Meg’s journey a compelling one. I struggled to stay interested as she was presented with advice and speeches but never asked to make choices. It’s frustrating because I love the source material and it had so much potential with a great cast and production values. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t get there.
My advice is watch Time Bandits or Where the Wild Things Are instead or even better read A Wrinkle in Time!
Overall Grade- C-
I should add that the diversity in the cast is amazing and should be encouraged in future films.