MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ava DuVernay is a gifted filmmaker, capable of creating the memorable Selma as well as the outstanding documentary 13th. When she announced her desire to make a film version of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1963 novel A Wrinkle in Time (with the blessing of Oprah Winfrey), I had high hopes that something wonderful would happen.
The more I thought about the shortcomings of this film, I came to the conclusion that no movie could do justice to this classic children’s book, which is primarily a novel of ideas and imagination, touched with Christian theology. Every major work of ideas (i.e. Gulliver’s Travels, Alice in Wonderland, A Pilgrim’s Progress, Ulysses, Moby Dick, Animal Farm, The Narnia Chronicles, etc.) begins to fall apart when its big themes are reduced (or blown up) to screen size. One of the reasons that draws readers back to classic children’s fiction as adults is the depth of wisdom that reveals itself upon later readings.
Disney tried a film version of A Wrinkle in Time for a TV movie back in 2004. That version was 2 hours and 20 minutes long and did not fare too well, either.
The fantasy adventure involves three children (two siblings and a friend) who travel through space and time to seek a missing father (Chris Pine), a scientist who has discovered the tesseract, the phenomenon that removed him from his family. The hero in the story is Meg Murry, wonderfully played by Storm Reid. Her commitment to her role is impressive, but it cannot overcome the film’s shortcomings which include not only the winking and overcooked performances by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who. (...and I Don’t Know – Third Base!) Levi Miller is fine as her friend Calvin, but he is given so little to do that I often wondered why he went on the journey at all. And, while I hate to single out bad performances from child actors, Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace Murry, Meg’s “genius” brother, mumbles most of his unimpressive line readings from the get-go, only to become even more unconvincing when he is taken over by the evil IT later in the film (not to be confused with Stephen King’s IT or the computer geeks in the office). There are some impressive CGI moments in the movie, but there is not much story to back them up (you might feel better if you paid the 3D upcharge).
DuVernay chooses to present Meg as a biracial daughter with loving parents and even incorporates this as part of her unique identity. The script by Jennifer Stockwell and Jeff Lee adds quotes by Lin Manuel Miranda and OutKast to Mrs. Who’s litany of citations. Her artistic license with the material is testimony to how most readers respond to the book – they will expand its world to include their own.
The theological message of the power of God’s light over darkness and fear is watered down here quite a bit. I understand why films meant for a broad audience choose this course of action. Hopefully, L’Engle’s book (and its four sequels) will find renewed popularity, thanks to this movie, wrinkles and all.
Four halos: (An inclusive celebration of individuality and self-empowerment.
One pitchfork: Some creepy characters; bullying.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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