A Wrinkle in Time is one of those classic books that has high name recognition but that few people actually seem to know what it's about. Written by Madeleine L'Engle and published in 1962, it is finally making its big screen debut 56 years later thanks to the collective filmmaking power of Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and director Ava DuVernay.
Turns out that knowing the story ahead of time is almost a prerequisite, as DuVernay and co-writers Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell have crafted about as complicated and impenetrable a children's movie as one could imagine. Storm Reid stars as Meg, a high schooler who's turned justifiably moody following the mysterious disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine) four years earlier.
Her father was convinced that he had figured out a way to bend — or "wrinkle" — time to travel into the far reaches of space. Meg's brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), has somehow stumbled onto the existence of Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon), Mrs. Which (Winfrey), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), three supernatural beings who promise Meg they know how to find her father.
Most of the rest of the film is spent "tessering" (aka traveling through space and time) to different planets and other celestial objects as part of that search. At least, that seems to be the general purpose. You could be forgiven for not knowing what is going on as the film makes close to zero narrative or emotional sense.
It would appear that DuVernay, the writers, and anyone else responsible for greenlighting the film fell in love with a concept but forgot how to tell a decent story. A pre-screening video introduction by DuVernay talked about her wanting to make a film full of positivity and love, but her good intentions may have clouded the good judgment she's shown in Oscar-quality films like Selma or 13th.
Here, very little time is taken to establish the most important relationships in the film. We're given plenty of bullying of Meg over a baffling reason — the disappearance of her father — but feeling sympathy for her doesn't equate to empathizing with her.
And good luck feeling any kind of connection with the three Missus. Mrs. Whatsit is wacky to the point of nonsense; Mrs. Who speaks solely — and confusingly — in the supposedly-wise words of others; and Mrs. Which, while friendly, is completely unapproachable. Plus, their "guidance" is less helpful than you'd expect; it's more a "we brought you here, now you figure it out" kind of mentoring.
Due to the confusing nature of the film, few of the actors come off well. As the star, Reid shines the most, but even she can bring little sense of clarity to her story arc. Winfrey, Witherspoon, Kaling, and Pine are the big names, but their screen time is either so short or so perplexing that they can't get by on their names alone.
An award-winning book like A Wrinkle in Time has long deserved a film adaptation equal to its power. Unfortunately, this version is so dense and uninteresting that it's not worth anyone's time.