‘A Wrin­kle in Time’ is a land­mark film, but doesn’t al­ways work

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By KATIE WALSH As­so­ci­ated Press

Ava DuVer­nay’s “A Wrin­kle in Time” is a land­mark film even be­fore it hits the the­aters. The adap­ta­tion of Madeleine L’En­gle’s eerie, mystical young adult sci-fi novel from 1962 was bud­geted at over $100 mil­lion, the largest bud­get a woman of color has been handed for a film. DuVer­nay is only the fourth fe­male di­rec­tor to re­ceive that kind of bud­get for a project, and in tack­ling the beloved “A Wrin­kle in Time,” she has taken an enor­mous swing. That alone is wor­thy of recog­ni­tion.

DuVer­nay mar­shalled an ar­ray of star power to in­habit L’En­gle’s tale, with Oprah Win­frey, Reese Wither­spoon and Mindy Kal­ing step­ping into the roles of the Misses; su­per­nat­u­ral, de­ity-like be­ings who guide the young Meg (Storm Reid) on her jour­ney through space and time. It’s al­most laugh­ably ap­pro­pri­ate cast­ing for Win­frey, who em­bod­ies the wise, god­like pres­ence Mrs. Which.

Un­der­neath the sci-fi and fan­tasy el­e­ments of both the book and film of “A Wrin­kle in Time,” the story is quite sim­ple: a young girl sets out to find her miss­ing fa­ther (Chris Pine). She may travel through fan­tas­ti­cal worlds of space and time, guided by mystical forces, but ul­ti­mately, this is a story about re­unit­ing a fam­ily.

Jen­nifer Lee and Jeff Stock­well have adapted what has been con­sid­ered an “un­filmable” book, and keep­ing the story sim­ple, and earnest, is the nec­es­sary foun­da­tion for the fan­tas­ti­cal set pieces that DuVer­nay crafts. Meg, her pre­co­cious younger brother Charles Wal­lace (Deric McCabe), and their friend Calvin (Levi Miller) travel through space and time, from ver­dant and vi­brant plan­ets to the dark, re­al­i­ty­bend­ing space of Ca­ma­zotz, where her fa­ther is be­lieved to be stranded.

DuVer­nay shoots for the stars with a highly styl­ized look and en­ergy to the film that’s both vi­sion­ary and ref­eren- tial. It’s very much akin a chil­dren’s fan­tasy ad­ven­ture film from the ’80s or ’90s — the quirky Misses, es­pe­cially Wither­spoon’s Mrs. What­sit, are clearly in­debted to Zelda Ru­bin­stein’s per­for­mances from “Teen Witch” and “Poltergeist.” In cer­tain mo­ments, it feels a lot like “The Nev­erEnd­ing Story,” in oth­ers, it’s closer to the odd­ball Robin Wil­liams ve­hi­cle “Toys.”

When “Wrin­kle” is fir­ing on all cylin­ders, it’s a trans­port­ing ad­ven­ture that brings you back to the imag­i­na­tive ad­ven­ture of child­hood, when the stakes were clear, and al­ways high. The goals are straight­for­ward, and the film wears its heart plainly on its sleeve. It’s not of­ten that we see purely straight­for­ward films that are sim­ply about van­quish­ing dark­ness with the light from within us. That’s ex­actly what “Wrin­kle” is about, and it never hides or nu­ances that mes­sage.

But there are times when the film doesn’t quite flow. The tone and style is of­ten herky jerky and af­fected, es­pe­cially with the Misses. The edit isn’t smooth and lulling — in­stead it skit­ters and yanks, of­ten to alert us to shifts in the film’s re­al­ity, but it’s jar­ring and un­com­fort­able. Some of the more ac­tion-packed mo­ments de­volve into a jum­ble of gray­ish CGI, los­ing all of the care­fully honed world-build­ing. Even worse, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Calvin and Meg is un­com­fort­ably ro­man­tic and dis­tract­ing.

DuVer­nay has set out to make an am­bi­tious fan­tasy epic, and in many ways, she suc­ceeds. Pine is won­der­ful as the reck­less but in­spi­ra­tional dad Dr. Murry, and McCabe is a break­out star, steal­ing the film from his co-stars as the odd lit­tle brother. Many mo­ments are beau­ti­ful and sur­real, while oth­ers are just plain weird (and not al­ways in a good way). If it doesn’t al­ways work, well, at least DuVer­nay went for it, and her ver­sion of “A Wrin­kle in Time” is just as gor­geous and strange as can be ex­pected. 2.5 stars Rated PG for the­matic el­e­ments and some peril


Reese Wither­spoon, left, and Storm Reid act in a scene from “A Wrin­kle In Time.”

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