A Wrinkle in Time
dir Ava DuVernay
scr Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
prd Catherine Hand, Jim Whitaker
with Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Pena, Andre Holland, David Oyelowo
release US 9.Mar.18, UK 23.Mar.18
18/US Disney 1h49
A Wrinkle in Time
Strange new world: Miller, McCabe and Reid

winfrey witherspoon kaling
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
A Wrinkle in Time The classic Madeleine L'Engle novel gets the full monty treatment with this Disney extravaganza, but director Ava DuVernay oddly allows overwrought design and effects to steal focus from the characters, story and, worst of all, the important themes. This leaves the movie feeling both muddy and bizarrely dull, even though its terrific actors deliver some great moments.

Surly 13-year-old Meg (Reid) is still struggling to accept the disappearance of her scientist father (Pine) four years ago. She virtually ignores her mother (Mbatha-Raw) and 5-year-old brother Charles Wallace (McCabe). Then the kids, along with Meg's schoolmate Calvin (Miller), meet new neighbour Mrs Whatsit (Witherspoon) and her magical colleagues Mrs Who and Mrs Which (Kaling and Winfrey). Offering to help find their dad, they fold and time, travelling to a variety of planets, including a dark world that spreads judgement and jealousy across the galaxy and is particularly threatening Earth.

Rather than stick with the intimate story of two children seeking their father, DuVernay expands everything to a vast canvas of colourful settings with elaborate effects and especially intricate costumes. This big approach is fine when things centre on character interaction, but when the environments begin to draw attention to themselves, it's much more problematic. For example, when they meet the Happy Medium (a cheeky Galifianakis), his planet is so in motion that the sequence's point is lost. And the big finale inside the creeping blackness is an uninteresting mass of zapping tentacles.

Even so, Reid is a gifted actress, nicely playing a smart young teen who lacks confidence in herself. Her journey is powerfully resonant, tackling big issues about identity and social pressure. Miller and McCabe are solid as her cohorts, sharp and observant, bright-eyed and likeable. And both Mbatha-Raw and Pine have punchy moments of their own. More troublesome are the three Mrs Ws, stunt cast members who strain visibly to be magical and meaningful amid overwhelming gowns and makeup.

This story demands a much earthier approach than this. Every frame of the movie is simply gorgeous, with impeccable sets, gorgeous lighting, eye-catching visual trickery and beautiful actors. But the moments of authentic humanity are rare, so even the earthbound scenes feel weirdly unreal. DuVernay is so good with character detail that it isn't a complete loss: the connections between these people are vivid, and the ideas raised are strongly meaningful. So it's a shame that the story doesn't come to life as well.

cert PG themes, violence 17.Mar.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall