"Close your eyes. See with mine."
There’s definitely a lot of intrigue to Ava DuVernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. The trailers alone indicate that it is a highly ambitious work of science fiction and the talent both in front of and behind the camera is clear. DuVernay made a significant mark with 2014’s ‘Selma’ and her involving documentary ‘13th’. The question that remains is whether her transition to blockbuster filmmaking can yield sustainable results or will she face the challenges that so many filmmakers have before her when working under a big budget for the first time.
Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, have been without their scientist father, Mr. Murry (Chris Pine), for five years, ever since he discovered a new planet and used the concept known as a tesseract to travel there. Joined by Meg's classmate Calvin O'Keefe and guided by the three mysterious astral travellers known as Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the children brave a dangerous journey to a planet that possesses all of the evil in the universe.
There’s so much to like about ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ conceptually. From the empowering messages to the blind ambition of the movie. But as for execution, sadly a lot of it falls frustratingly flat. In fact the way the movie chooses to convey it’s themes to the screen almost undercuts the conceptual elements that I did enjoy. ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is both massively convoluted but also over simplified to a point where the movie seemed to flash before my eyes. On that front I suppose I could say it was decently paced since I never felt myself growing bored, but at the same time I also never felt fully invested. Almost as if was caught in some kind of nether-space.
The problem is that while the overall message of the movie is impressive, for a young girl’s insecurities to feel as significant as the fate of the universe, the narrative is so condensed that none of the emotional information has time to sink in. Nor in fact does a lot of the plot exposition as it all seems over simplified to a point where I started to question the flaws within the movie’s internal logic before the first act was over. It tries to condense the plot of the movie to a point where the themes it wants to raise don’t feel adequately explored to have any discernible impact on the audience.
As far as DuVernay’s handling of the CGI heavy design goes, it’s a mixed bag to say the least. On the one hand her direction does give the movie a sense of energy that allows each set piece to feel engaging on a visual level. But at the same time none of the effects possess any dexterity or weight to them. Everything has this over glossed feel that creates a dissonance between what’s real and what is a computer prop. I suspect DuVernay knew the limitations of these effects since she shoots a lot of the characters in tight close ups to try and draw the eye away from the CGI. But if anything that just creates an awkward visual language to how each character is presented.
With so much focus on each actor’s face that doesn’t leave them a lot of room to embody their characters on a physical level and the result is that, like the film as a whole, they are all caught in a meditative position. I wouldn’t necessarily call the performances bad (save for a few awkward child performances), but at the same time I’d be lying if I said I every actually saw any of the actors as their characters. They sink into the world around them to such an extent that they are little more than pretty accessories. They serve as points of interest and little more.
I think the first act is the strongest because the entire film feels like its own first act. There is a real sense of intrigue when the movie begins but as the plot unfolds the pace just stays at the same pitch and speed. There’s no increasing urgency to the narrative or escalating tension to the stakes as they present themselves. By the time the climax of the film arrived I found myself struggling to care about anything that was happening. The only inking of investment I felt was within the sincere emotions that the film kept hinting towards. It’s in those areas in which you can see most of DuVernay’s craftsmanship as the details she puts into her protagonist are clear and concise. But like everything else in ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ those details are never developed into a fully functioning arc. It can’t help but feel vague and meandering, as if it’s lost within a sea of its own ideas.
High on ambition, but low on development and focus, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is a sincere but ultimately unfulfilling experience.