While it’s an entertaining movie, Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel “A Wrinkle in Time” is not entirely successful. DuVernay and her outstanding design team give the story a dazzling makeover that extends to an excellent multi-racial cast, but the adaptation by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell is frequently clunky.
The opening scene, a prologue that’s not in the book, makes DuVernay’s intent clear. Young Meg Murray (an amazing Storm Reid) is playing with her scientist father Alex (Chris Pine) in his home lab. Her scientist mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) enters and the happy couple tell Meg that her adopted brother will be arriving soon. It’s a touching scene that establishes the deep familial bonds and their mutual love of science.
The movie then jumps forward several years. Alex has mysteriously gone missing and Meg has become a sullen problem child with plunging grades and no friends other than her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). One stormy night, the fabulous Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) bursts into the scene to tell the Murrys that Alex is alive, but is in grave danger.
With the help of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), as well as Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), Meg and Charles Wallace set off to find their missing father.
The acting is superb. Reid is simply amazing as the fierce young woman who breaks out of her emotional shell and discovers strength and powers she never knew she had. Witherspoon, Kaling and Winfrey are delightful as the mysterious and powerful beings who help Meg. Zach Galifianakis is wonderful as their friend the Happy Medium. Pine and Raw give rich performances, and Miller and McCabe are fine young performers to watch.
DuVernay’s direction is strong, although her use of special effects is uneven. The shimmering space travel scenes look exquisite, but the climactic battle is visually dull and derivative, looking like the finale to a second-rate superhero movie.
She’s not helped at all by screenwriters Lee and Stockwell. The dialogue frequently descends into self-help clichés. More importantly, their truncated depiction of the terrible planet where Alex is held captive is flat and dull. This robs the story of its all-too-contemporary horror and diminishes Meg’s heroism.
“Love, Simon” (see review on page 31) and “A Wrinkle in Time,” both playing in area theaters currently, are great stories that are both timely and timeless. Unfortunately, DuVernay is held back by an awkward and sententious script.