Since its first publication in 1962, Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Wrinkle in Time” has been continuously in print. It’s an enduring classic of science fantasy, a young-adult-ish novel that’s accessible to just about everyone. Adapting it for the big screen is a tall order, and director Ava DuVernay has thrown herself into her work with undeniable passion. DuVernay has said it’s meant to be viewed by children and those with a child’s wonder, and she’s right. Some folks will love it and some will be dismissive. It depends on the attitude you bring to the film.
This is a coming-of-age story. Our heroine Meg (Storm Reid) sets out to save her father (Chris Pine), who’s been missing for four years. Along the way, she breaks through her own self-loathing to a more clear and loving sense of self. She’s accompanied by her genius little brother (Deric McCabe), classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), and a trio of strange, intergalactic beings: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). Her adventures take her to different planets and introduce her to all manner of strange and beautiful things and beings.
The special effects carry an ambitiously heavy load for the film, and for the most part they are great. Once Meg and her companions leave Earth, everything is at least a little alien, and much of the film takes place in entirely CGI locations. Moviegoers who hate that kind of thing should definitely steer clear – if you already hate computer effects, this is probably not going to change your mind.
Storm Reid leads the film well, making Meg believable both as a gifted child of scientists and as the acting-out, often-in-trouble outsider at school. The rest of the cast are solid – this isn’t a high-art film full of micro-expressions and complex inner motivations, this is a pretty straightforward fantasy. Winfrey, Witherspoon, and Kaling hold their own against their constantly-changing and often bizarre outfits. McCabe, only a little older than his six-year-old character at the time of shooting, does well too – he delivers his highfalutin dialog in a normal voice and otherwise behaves like you’d expect a smart but still very young kid to behave. Levi Miller blends shyly into the background as a dependable but out of his depth sidekick.
The changes from the book are mostly detail, sometimes small and sometimes significant. The heart of the story remains, though whether that’s enough depends on how generous the viewer is with adaptations.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is a lovely, often sentimental, fairy tale in outer space. If you’re willing to have your heartstrings plucked, they will be. You have to meet the film halfway, though. It’s simple and straightforward, and that can charm or provoke, depending on the viewer. Best of all, it’s full of people of color. This is a film where the love interest tells the heroine her hair is pretty – her natural hair. It seems like a small thing, but in a world where Black and mixed-race kids rarely see themselves as protagonists, it’s important.