In recent years, campaigns for more diverse representation in the media have overtaken public discourse surrounding both the small and big screen. In the realm of Hollywood, a market for progressive, diverse films has slowly but surely developed as a result, and this year’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava DuVernay is just one of many said films.
I opened my review of this film with the subject of representation because as I left the theater, the extreme extent to which I could identify my past-tween self with the film’s main character Meg Murry (Storm Reid) stuck with me the most on the ride home. This connection ultimately positively impacted my experience of this film in a unique manner unmatched by other films. For the first time, I believe I was finally able to understand just how important representation is in the media overall.
In her break-out role, Storm Reid portrays the soft-spoken, reserved, thirteen-year old Meg Murry with incredible finesse. Still reeling from the four-year disappearance of her father (Chris Pine), Meg isolates herself from her peers and stops doing her schoolwork, despite the immense intelligence she possesses. She lashes out at the mean girls who tease her one too many times on the school yard and is quiet, somewhat awkward, self-conscious and doesn’t know how to take a compliment. At one point, Meg’s endearing friend, Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller), tells her, “I like your hair.” “What?” Meg responds, incredulously.
The main adventure of the story begins soon thereafter in Meg’s backyard, where three celestial beings — Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) — suddenly appear and lead Meg, her genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and Calvin on a universe-spanning quest to find Meg and Charles’ missing father.
If this film competes for any major accolades, it will be for its stellar visual effects. Plain and simple, this movie is gorgeous. Each planet and every universe the characters “tesser,” or travel, to is absolutely stunning: sweeping green fields replete with alien, colorful flowers cover the home planet of Mrs. Which and her companions. Another more sinister planet, upon which our three heroes spend the most time roaming, shifts from one visually intriguing and yet unquestionably eerie setting to the next: a dark forest ravaged by storms or a suburban neighborhood with identical, pale-yellow homes lined neatly in rows.
And, on the topic of costumes, the three “Mrs.” characters are all worth marveling at in their own right. Their appearances change from scene to scene, switching between a variety of hairstyles that bend and curl in impossible ways, transforming from and into other outfits that drip with beautiful golds and silvers, sometimes covered in rhinestones.
The marvelous visuals of this film, however, aren’t entirely without their drawbacks. The extent to which this film uses CGI ranges from jarring to almost hilarious when its use seems particularly out-of-place. In one of the more humorous scenes, Winfrey’s character, Mrs. Which, appears in the human world as the size of a giant, providing plenty of unintentional comedy. Another CGI-heavy scene (the details of which I will obscure for the sake of not spoiling the film) left the audience laughing uncomfortably, unsure if the bizarre effects were serious or were designed to act as comic relief.
This weird effect of not knowing what is what or what the tone of a specific environment, moment or effect is supposed to be, is what I love about the film — but it is also its downfall in the world of film criticism. This is a film that asks you not to question its details and logistics but to instead embrace its weirdness.
Embracing the weirdness of the film’s universe is a classic Disney tactic. It’s a message incorporated in the way the plot is executed — that is, oddly. There is no denying the fact that the pacing of this movie, especially that of the second act, is positively strange. The second act begins abruptly by plunging all three heroes into sudden action, and after that point, major plot point after major plot point bleed into one another in confusing ways. An eventual plot-twist about a character’s true nature comes completely out of left field. The countless oddities also raise a few overarching questions about the intentions of the film’s stylistic choices: are we, the audience, supposed to accept the weirdness with which the plot is executed as a side-effect of the fantastical nature of the story’s setting? Are the copious unexplained plot-holes in the film then intentional and in-line with the film’s quirks?
Many established, vocal critics of this film have expressed that they do not believe so, and maybe that is the truth — perhaps this movie is simply poorly paced and executed. And yet, the thought of this film utilizing unconventional storytelling methods intentionally is too charming of an idea that fits neatly with the oddness of the story’s setting to be completely implausible.
As Meg stops questioning the weirdness of the universes she traverses through, we see her learn to embrace the weird, internal quirks that make her unique and grow to love herself. As she slowly stops asking questions and doubles down on her quest to find her father, perhaps we too are supposed to stop asking too many questions.
“A Wrinkle in Time” feels like a love letter to all young, nerdy, soft-spoken girls of color more than anything else, which resonates with me deeply. It’s certainly not perfect, and it is weird, quirky and unconventional like its main character, but perhaps, as this film seems to suggest, this sort of weirdness and unconventionality is not so inherently terrible after all.