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Book Geek Movie Review: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time Move Poster. Image: Disney

Guest Review:
A Wrinkle in Time

Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Deric McCabe and Levi Miller

Based on the 1962 Newbery Award winning book by Madeline L’Engle

Screenplay by Jennifer Lee

Directed by Ava DuVernay

I was a weird kid. A little too smart. A little too poor. A little too interested in stuff that girls weren’t supposed to be interested in. Super heroes. Science. Science Fiction. I was strange, lonely, and much like Meg Murry, the young heroine of this story, I didn’t like myself very much.

In the most simple of descriptions, this is the story of an angry oddball of a girl, her brilliant baby brother, and a school friend, who, lead by three angelic astral travels, must face a universe threatening darkness in order to save her astrophysicist father who has ‘tessered’ (traveling using a tesseract) to another planet and gotten lost. But that’s the most basic of synopses for what is so much more.

A Wrinkle in Time was an important book to nine year old Heather, because for the first time in a story I was able to see myself. Nancy Drew was too old, too boring and goody goody. Ramona Quimby was too young and too precious. Alice in Wonderland was too British, Mary Poppins too stuffy. The list went on and on. The boys I knew had lots of heroes to look up to. Encyclopedia Brown, the young boys from The Outsiders, That was Then, This is Now. But the books for girls didn’t celebrate smartness. The Babysitters Club? Anything V. C. Andrews? It seemed it was all about finding a date, or being popular, or soap opera romance. These were things I didn’t care about and neither did Meg. She was unabashedly herself, flaws and fears intact.

Storm Reid brings Meg to life. Where Jennifer Lee’s script can sometimes feel clunky and repetitive, this brilliant and talented young actress elevates the narrative. She embodies the awkwardness of being a smart teenager, and the sadness that sometimes comes with that. Girls aren’t encouraged to be smart, and that shows so plainly in how Meg reacts to the world. Storm brings this to beautiful realization. Much has been made of the casting of an African American girl to play Meg, white in the novel, but that’s focusing on the wrong thing. It’s not important that Meg is now mixed race, from a blended family, her little brother adopted, and a different skin tone than she is. What’s important is that she’s a thirteen year old girl who is allowed to be who she is, what she is, and that gives permission for other little girls–white, black, and every shade in between–permission to be themselves as well, even if what that is isn’t always what the world tells us it should be.

Because, while this isn’t a story about romance, it is about love. It’s about loving your family, loving your friends. It’s about love conquering hate. It’s about the love between different people changing not just themselves but the energies that make up the universe itself, and most importantly, it is about learning to love yourself, just how you are, and giving yourself permission to be loved in turn.

Ava DuVernay’s attempt to bring these complex ideas and images to life are not always successful, and deviations from the book are often a bit glaring. Mindy Kaling’s Mrs. Who, for example, is bizarrely relegated to lines taken from a quote of the day calendar, but when she is needed for exposition, this quirk is shrugged off with barely an acknowledgment. Oprah, as the godly Mrs. Which, is so elevated a presence, that she spends much of the movie in a giant form, literally looming over the action, weirdly passive except for preachy speeches that seem to say the same thing over and over. Many of the important elements of the story, like the two dimensional planet, or the healing Aunt Beast, are entirely missing, clearly unfilmable, and in many ways, the character connections are missing in favor of beautiful but useless CG segments, including an extended sequence of a transfigured Mrs. Whatsit, played with frenetic energy by Reese Witherspoon, taking the three young heroes for a pointless flying trip on an alien planet. There are also problems with the soundtrack, popular music by Sia, Demi Lovato and DJ Kahled wildly out of place and jarring, though the orchestral score by Ramin Djawadi is lovely.

The good outweighs these problems though. Eight year old Deric McCabe does not come off as a child actor, instead portraying the precocious Charles Wallace with an adorableness that somehow remains even when the darkness of the IT, the evil force that threatens the universe, overtakes him. Levi Miller brings a starry eyed charm to Calvin O’Keefe and though most of the moments in the book that show why he is necessary for this story have been removed, he never feels like extra baggage. Chris Pine and Gu-Gu Mbatha-Raw, as the Murry parents, don’t have a lot to do, but what they do is done to perfection, and there’s a nice chemistry when they’re on screen. Even Zach Galifianakis, who could have interjected a misplaced goofiness in the ethereal seriousness of this story, instead brings a surprisingly grounded and genuine performance as the Happy Medium.

Did this story deserve more? Maybe. Maybe it would have been better to have split this complex tale up into two pieces, so that we could really get to know and love these characters the way we are meant to, but maybe there’s something to be said for what is left unsaid. Maybe, like Meg, we’re meant to find our own meaning and place in the universe, and decide for ourselves how to fight the darkness of the It. We might not be able to tesser across the galaxy to find love, but if we look at those around us, we might just be able to find out that we are all worthy of it, if only from ourselves.


Bio:

Heather Kenealy is an aging geek girl, working at Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, CA, and living her comic book life, four pages at a time. The winner of Stan Lee and MTVGeek Presents The Seekers in 2012, Heather’s writing has been featured in several anthologies, including Dirty Diamonds: Sex; Ladies Night: How to Magic; and the Pandora Anthology which earned her the title of a USATop Selling Author in 2014. Her latest work will be seen in Russell Nohelty’s upcoming anthology Cthulhu is Hard to Spell, and you can check out older works at her Patreon here.  Consider supporting if you like what you see.

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