Film Review: ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Celebrates Beauty and Brains

A Wrinkle in Time” is a celebration of beauty, intelligence, and, most importantly, love.

Based on the classic novel by Madeleine L’Engle, the film tells the story of Meg Murry, an exceptional girl who has been deeply troubled since her father disappeared four years prior. Meg is bullied by a particularly mean girl at school, has long since stopped caring about grades, and knows what everyone—including the teachers—say behind her back.

Meg’s only solace comes in the form of a loving and devoted mother, Dr. Kate Murry, and her even more devoted brother, Charles Wallace. He was adopted as a baby shortly before their father disappeared. Though he has no real memories of the man, he feels Dr. Alex Murry’s absence as keenly as his mother and sister do.

But everything changes with the arrival of three mystical beings: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Suddenly, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s new friend Calvin find themselves on a journey across time and space to rescue Dr. Murry.

Storm ReidStorm Reid leads the cast as Meg. It is a role she clearly cherishes. And under Ava DuVernay’s direction, she flourishes. Reid portrays Meg’s intelligence in a way that never feels boastful. She brings out Meg’s insecurities and flaws in a way that every kid can relate.

Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon play the three Misses, an inescapable fact if you have seen even a single bit of marketing. The casting choices are perfect, though. They don’t feel gimmicky. There isn’t a sense of “We need to get Oprah for this movie!” Instead, these actresses play to their strengths in roles that almost seem designed for them. Which is something, considering the book is more than 50 years old.

Deric McCabeBut the real standout in this cast is, surprisingly, nine-year-old Deric McCabe. In both the novel and the film, Charles Wallace undergoes the biggest transformation of any other character. He starts out as this almost clairvoyant empath, always knowing what Meg feels and what she needs. When the story reaches its climactic crescendo, though, Charles Wallace is seized by the evil entity known as The It. As such, the boy turns into an unwitting villain. And McCabe turns out to be an exceptionally talented young actor. He is fully believable as the sweet and innocent kid, and also as the maniacal malefactor. It is almost creepy how good he is at being bad.

Levi Miller plays Calvin, a friend of Meg’s who finds himself on this unexpected journey. Calvin’s situation is a funny one. He has no connection to the Murrys, really, except through Meg. And yet, his almost reflexive decision to join the mission doesn’t feel out of place. Miller is delightful to watch and never tries to steal any of the spotlight from Reid or McCabe. He knows his place and revels in it.

There are other good performances here, too. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Dr. Kate Murry. The only thing to complain about is that we just don’t get enough time with her. Chris Pine is Dr. Alex Murry, Meg’s missing father. Even though he spends much of the film off screen, his presence is strong throughout. Rowan Blanchard is a particularly vicious bully facing her own demons. André Holland is the school principal, a man who cares but is at a loss on how to guide a troubled girl. Michael Peña and Zach Galifianakis turn up in cameos that are fun, but not silly. They are both fun to watch, and Galifianakis even manages to give his funny character a heartwarming moment.

This is one of the most diverse casts you’ll probably find in any film this year. The seamless inclusion of African-American, Asian, and white actors/actresses onscreen, as well as behind the scenes, proves that a film that reflects our real world works. There is no reason not to showcase the diversity of our day to day existence. To highlight that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves. And that capability is not a racial trait. It is a human one.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is a story that involves travel through time and space. As such, visual effects are vital to effectively telling it. And the visual effects in this film are top notch. Which is to be expected from a team whose members have worked on films including “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Ghostbusters (2016),” and “Jurassic World.” The worlds they create are glorious. The colors, the characters, everything about it is overwhelming to the senses. Go and see this on the biggest screen you can. That is the only way to fully appreciate the scope of what this team accomplishes.

There are some imperfections along the way. Most of that has to do with the development of the story. Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell wrote the script, which is mostly very good. The dialogue flows nicely and the story follows the map of the book with surprising accuracy. But it almost feels like there was a rush to get Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin on their journey. As such, some development of character was shuffled aside, leaving behind a pace that, at times, feels out of balance. Why, for instance, do these well-behaved kids never stop and think to themselves, “I should probably go mention to my mom that I’m leaving the planet with the strange lady who showed up last night in bed sheets?”

And other things were left a bit lacking, too. Charles Wallace is so connected to Meg, which is a point that is abundantly clear in the novel, and also comes to the forefront late in the movie. But the level of their connection and the depth of Charles Wallace’s empathy isn’t explored. It feels more like we’re being told this is true, rather than experiencing their relationship for ourselves.

Ava DuVernayWhile all of that extra character development would have helped, it was not enough to derail the story. The characters are still good, and we understand the stakes. Ava DuVernay crafts a film that shines. The performances she elicits are brilliant. And she pulls everything together into a film that is breathtaking in its beauty and accessible in its central themes. DuVernay is a talented director, a fact that not many have disputed, but that is now undeniable.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is necessary. We need this now. We needed it decades ago, and there have been versions along the way. But we need this version of this film, by this director, with these stars right now. As a girl who was never challenged in science or math because it wasn’t “my thing,” I can say that we need this film. Girls need to know that science and math are for everyone. That it’s cool to be smart.  They need to see themselves represented on screen as the heroes. Plus, boys need to see that girls are every bit as capable as they are. And often better.

“A Wrinkle in Time” is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and will be in theaters nationwide on Friday.

GRADE: (★★★½)