Kernel Rating (out of 5): (4 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 109
Age Appropriate For: 8+. There are some scary moments throughout the film, which keeps most of the young adult novel’s original story: A young girl’s father has gone missing, and we see him trapped and alone in a far-off world; an evil being spreads insidiously throughout the universe, encouraging a father to verbally abuse his son, classmates to bully one another, and a girl to become obsessed with her weight and develop an eating disorder; there are some scenes of bullying, one of which ends in a basketball being thrown at another student’s face; some very light romance between tweens and a married couple kiss. Most scary is the evil being taking control of a beloved character and turning him cruel and aggressive, and his glowing red eyes and cracked, glowing skin may particularly frighten young viewers.
Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the beloved YA classic ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ drops off much of the original story, leaving the plot a bit skimpy. But the film is a riot of color, a celebration of individual flaws, and an encouragement of self-confidence, and in those ways, taps directly into the ‘love conquers all’ message of the novel.
By Roxana Hadadi
Adapting the sci-fi YA classic “A Wrinkle in Time,” the first in a series of books by author Madeleine L’Engle, into a film was going to be a challenge for any director. In the hands of Ava DuVernay (of “Selma”), the first black woman ever to helm a blockbuster with a budget greater than $100 million, the novel’s themes become extraordinarily clear: to love oneself is the most important lesson of all.
Against whatever obstacles—everyday problems like unsympathetic teachers and unrelenting bullies, and once-in-a-lifetime challenges like a cosmic evil threatening to overtake the universe—having confidence in yourself is key, DuVernay’s film reiterates, amid a riot of color and under the gentle guiding force of Oprah Winfrey as the powerful Mrs. Which. Believing that you know the right answer to a problem, that your hair looks good even though it doesn’t look like everyone else’s, that your family will accept you for who you are—those are the gifts DuVernay’s film will give its young viewers. There is a genuineness and sincerity to the film that may seem corny to cynics, but is like a soothing balm for anyone in crisis, anyone questioning themselves, anyone in pain.
The film centers on Meg Murry, a 13-year-old girl who is struggling: Her father, a famed scientist (Chris Pine, of “Wonder Woman”), disappeared without a trace four years ago, leaving behind Meg’s mother, also a groundbreaking scientist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, of “Beauty and the Beast”), and Meg’s young brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Every day at school is a challenge for Meg, once a fantastic student who has grown disinterested in her studies, who has no friends, and who is brutally bullied by classmates who say things like, “I see why your dad left.”
But is her father truly gone? Charles Wallace doesn’t seem to think so, and he invites into their lives Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, of “Home Again”), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling, of “Inside Out”), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey, of “Selma”), beings of light who present themselves as women to make humans more comfortable. How kind of them! And they have an offer for Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s crush, Calvin (Levi Miller, of “Pan”): They know where Mr. Murry is, and they can save him, but they’ll need the children’s help. Will they come with the witches to find Meg and Charles Wallace’s father? Will they be warriors?
What comes next is a journey through the galaxy as Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin learn about the Black Thing, which has captured Mr. Murry and is threatening the universe. They visit a planet covered in flowers who can communicate with Mrs. Whatsit. They journey to another planet where they meet the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis, of “The LEGO Batman Movie”), who can provide information about where the Black Thing is holding Mr. Murry. And finally, they have to venture to the dangerous world of Camazotz, where the Black Thing has fully taken control and where its insidious evil—its desire for monotony, for hierarchy, for things that Meg has struggled with her whole life—threatens to spreads outward.
There are some missteps in how DuVernay creates this story in her film; the book goes deeper into Meg’s feelings of isolation and her community’s rejection of her family after Mr. Murry’s disappearance, world development that drives home for Meg why what the Black Thing offers is so dangerous. That depth isn’t recreated in DuVernay’s film, and there are some other issues, like wonky CGI and a final altercation in the Black Thing’s hideout that is too dimly lit and chaotically edited to make out real details of the action.
But that’s mainly because the movie is, first and foremost, focused on positivity and inclusivity. Everything is light: the Murry home is cozy and lived-in, and Meg, Charles Wallace, and her mother are clearly a devoted and diverse family; as celestial beings, Winfrey, Witherspoon, and Kaling, women of different ethnicities and different sizes, share a radiance of warmth, acceptance, and joy, not only in their performances but also in costumes that are sparkly, glittery, and culturally influenced. DuVernay often zooms in on character’s faces, allowing their emotions and their inner thought processes to play out right in front of us.
And as Meg, Storm Reid is a delight to watch—how she grows from defensive and slumping, unsure of why she is loved, to confident and intelligent, convinced that she deserves love, much like everyone else, is a revelation. What a wonderful transformation to witness, and what an example for young viewers who may be struggling with self-doubt in the same way. “A Wrinkle in Time” isn’t a perfect film or a perfect adaptation of its source text, but the messages it delivers and the love it provides are infectious and essential.
Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.