There isn't a single cynical moment in Ava DuVernay's adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's beloved children's book A Wrinkle in Time. In today's increasingly cynical world, this tone will likely feel radical or odd to certain audiences. Earnestness is abundant in many of the best moments of the film. Some will read this as corny, others as a breath of fresh air.
The story begins with Meg (Storm Reid) and her six-year-old adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) dealing with the aftermath of their missing father (Chris Pine). See he was working on some groundbreaking science involving tesseracts with his wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) when he suddenly disappeared. That was four years ago. When the children are visited by three magical mages, they embark on a mind-bending adventure across the galaxy to save their father. The three magical beings are the zany Mrs. Whatsit (a very fun Reese Witherspoon), the wise Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Oprah playing the elevated version of her persona we all believe in as Mrs. Which. Seriously when Mrs. Which arrives on the scene, you have to wonder if this is how Oprah walks into a room.
The film feels unique in its emphasis on feelings, acceptance for who you are and it's lack of jaded points of view. However, several elements of the film do feel a bit underdeveloped. The source material is not a metaphysics book by any means but it does favor scientific explanation more than the screenplay here does. Screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell dumb down the overall tone, including adding some bigger, blockbuster moments. Where the book wrote up to children, the movie feels written down to them. There is a sense too that the movie is overly-crowded, trying to shift every scene to a new mode. The film shifts from coming of age romance to wacky comedy to cerebral odyssey frequently. I wished the film had spent a bit more time in the setup over some of the grander, CGI spectacle moments. That being said, DuVernay does embrace the trippier elements of the book here and the result is occasionally striking. At other times, the visual style feels very borrowed such as the Hotline Bling-esque holding cell Pine is trapped in.
For all of its faults, A Wrinkle in Time is a noble film. Meg or really Storm Reid is a young black girl here who rocks her natural hair and is routinely told how beautiful she is. This feels quietly radical for a film from Disney. DuVernay includes these unique touches in many scenes rather it be the multicultural cast or the use of Outkast lyrics for inspiration. It is in these ways that the film is worth your time, especially if you have kids. Dodgy CGI and tone management aside, the film is an engaging mix of old-fashioned values with new school agendas. I could easily laugh the whole thing off but then I would be missing out on a refreshingly uncynical film that wants to believe in beauty of everyone.