'A Wrinkle in Time': Folds, Spindles and Doesn't Exhilarate

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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'A Wrinkle in Time': Folds, Spindles and Doesn't Exhilarate
 
2 popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
film critic
 
I expected more from director Ava DuVernay's "A Wrinkle in Time," an adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's 1962, adventure-fantasy novel. 
 
The book has been touted by a couple generations of youngsters, including my own moppet, Erin, who in retrospect adds that the freaky ideas were also a bit terrifying to a 9-year-old who hadn't to date "given that acid trip-type stuff much thought." Well, that's gratifying. But in any case, I saw my critiquing mission as a sort of command performance and wanted to bring news of a nostalgic, era-capturing event.
 
Alas, 'twas not to be, and while I'm only the messenger, I somehow feel a bit of a failure. Oh, it's not quite as bad as promising a puppy that never materializes or skipping a dance recital -- Heaven forbid, which is probably where Muffin, the delivered Yorkie, is now dining on slippers Provençale. The sad fact is that L'Engle's once cutting-edge fable, a moralistic, science-oriented vision of dimensions beyond Way Out, isn't stirringly transported into our CGI-laden, take-it-for-granted world of wholesale psychedelia.
 
Still, there's no devaluing the high-minded aspirations of this story about a dad who goes missing whilst looking for other worlds and the valiant daughter hell-bent on finding and bringing him back to terra firma. Ethical pronouncements spill from its seams, which would seem a bit much in more virtuous times. However, with the land currently awash in bad behavior and a tacitly official policy of amorality suggesting that not only shouldn't one give a sucker an even break, but that it is meritorious to outright swindle him, the more goody-two-shoes stuff the better.
 
This extra-added added dollop of what it takes to be a mensch is all about bravery, self-esteem, good citizenship and caring for your fellow human beings not because it makes good copy, but because that's what the gregarious nature of our species requires. It keeps us from slipping back into the muck and mire of might makes right. Meg Murry, the teen heroine here, epitomizes those qualities.
 
Played with likable credibility by Storm Reid, Meg is the Jeanne d'Arc of her peer group, commissioned by the author not only to be a devoted daughter, but to serve as a model of female empowerment and, while she's at it, show how to invalidate the mean girl who's been bullying her. Again, it's another important national issue addressed by the arts if not by those we've elected to do so. It's praiseworthy in that light, which makes the critic feel like a bit of an ogre for nonetheless submitting a negative appraisal.
 
In defense, you can't give the heart surgeon who repeatedly leaves instruments in his patients a pass just because he always brings doughnuts to the operating room. The art of teaching life's lessons to children through film requires much more than an iteration of what good parents and dedicated teachers should be inculcating ad nauseam. Kids prefer to get their attitudes from colleagues and infatuating media creations that make it feel as if the ideas are their own. Pretty as it is, "A Wrinkle in Time" is anything but subtle.
 
Making things tougher, I also feel like I'm letting Oprah down. She valorously tries to channel her humanitarian conviction into the role of Mrs. Which, an honest, female antithesis of Frank Morgan's Wizard of Oz. However, the obviously heartfelt portrayal comes off more preachy than life changing. Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling as her supernatural acolytes, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, respectively, are equally ineffective.
 
Insofar as the plot itself, the screenplay adapted by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, though afforded all the galaxies to explore, charts a neo-"Alice in Wonderland," follow-the-dots style that, perhaps for fear of being untrue to the source material, fails to color outside the lines. We hopscotch from dimension to dimension, predictably alternating encounters: good guys, bad guys, good guys, ad infinitum.
 
While Meg faces these outside challenges with true-believer alacrity, the sudden bodysnatching by evil forces of her genius younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), a precociously annoying tyke, adds internal strife to the mix. Rounding out the troika of space and time travelers is Levi Miller's Calvin, Meg's schoolmate who, providing the example that there's good folks of every stripe, is the popular boy smitten with our heroic nonconformist.
 
So all the elements are there. But while not as bad, let us say, as a botched attempt by Scotty to beam you up, wherein your atoms and molecules are unable to reunify, the inability of all these positive particles to coalesce leaves parents in a quandary: to take or not to take Scarlett and Logan to see "A Wrinkle in Time?" Of course if the urchins insist, simply look at it as another dance recital.
 
"A Wrinkle in Time," rated PG, is a Walt Disney Pictures release directed by Ava DuVernay and stars Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon. Running time: 109 minutes

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