Now I don't know what the rules for the MPAA are. It's not G. It's live action. It's PG. But the end is actually pretty scary. I didn't bring Henry to this movie because I knew it would completely destroy him. (He gets scared really easy.) But it also shouldn't be a PG-13. Does the MPAA choose their ratings based on intended audience? This movie is meant for kids and PG-13 connotes that the content is assumed for older audiences. But the same amount of scariness that would be in a Marvel movie is in this one. I guess the rating system is really "intended audience" nowadays. PG.
DIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay
This nonsense all started over a free poster that my daughter got at a comic book store. It was a fairly generic poster. The central focus is really just just logo for the film, A Wrinkle in Time. It has the cast on it and a fairly forgettable background. But my daughter got it and so she wanted it in her room. Well, if she had the poster up in her room, that means that she probably wanted to see the movie. I saw this as a teachable moment and decided to read the book with her. Ever since we opened the first page of the book, I knew that we were going to have a daddy/daughter date to see the movie. The odd thing is that, even as we were reading the book, I didn't see much comparison with the film. I love watching trailers as I'm reading the book. I want to see what scenes get translated into the film. This one didn't seem to really line up with the source material. But after seeing it, I can say that it does line up...mostly. And from a different point of view.
Ava DuVernay fell onto my radar with Selma and 13th. While neither film was absolutely perfect, they were these amazing films with this radical voice that I completely dug. They were conscious and well shot. I think of the church bombing sequence in Selma and I think of how most other directors would have handled that. That scene is so striking, not just for the content of the film, but for the way it is presented. DuVernay is a skilled filmmaker and handing her a film like A Wrinkle in Time is just a no-brainer. The thing is that I kind of have bigger expectations from her now. My biggest criticism of the film, which isn't the worst thing in the world, is that a lot of it is just functional. I know that I'm writing this after criticizing The Great Gatsby for trying too hard, but with a film like A Wrinkle in Time, there could be absolutely bonkers things going on with the camera that don't really appear here. It is a very pretty movie, but Disney is kind of just copying its template for The Chronicles of Narnia series. It's that safe kind of fantasy filmmaking that makes for a kind of good time, but nothing that really sticks to the ribs. Now, this isn't true throughout. There are some really cool choices that are made in the movie, but they are made almost in isolation and can really be chalked up to just being clever. When I was talking about the trailer almost looking like a different story, these are the moments.
Most of the book is in the film, with the exception of Aunt Beast. There is one major sequence that is added, but for the most part it is a fairly faithful adaptation. The reason that I didn't think that the movie was an adaptation of the novel is that DuVernay likes tampering with setting. I think it is an excellent choice for the most part. It did give me something new to watch instead of simply seeing a beholden presentation of the source material. The man with the red eyes looked completely different than I imagined. That's okay. There's no factory; it takes place on a beach. Cool. But ultimately, these changes tend to be clever. I can't say that this applies to the entire film. Some of the set changes are actually far more universal choices. The fact that the Misses live in the middle of an urban neighborhood seems like a far stronger choice. It has that It feeling to it, where people are passing this house everyday and don't even consider going in. That's a cool change. Overall, DuVernay's choices are fun, but don't often have the same weight or gravitas that they need. It's kind of like watching a modernization of Shakespeare. When I see these cool choices, that's about as far as they go with me. DuVernay is telling the story of the book, but she's just superficially making choices along the way. Some choices are better than others and I suppose that's okay. The big one is the Pegasus. It's an iconic image that's change for this. I don't normally subscribe or give credence to anyone who complains about superficial changes from the book to the movie, but I think that's all we really have the right to criticize when it comes to A Wrinkle in Time. I guess this is all a backwards way of saying that the movie is safe and sanitized. But that's not to say that DuVernay is not successful. The second half of the movie and the movie's theme is pretty strong. I actually think that DuVernay hits the theme of the movie better than the book does in a way. The goal that DuVernay has is to inspire young girls, particularly girls of color, to define themselves in the ways they were born to be defined. There's a heavy emphasis on the values of a STEM education (which I begrudgingly accept despite being an English teacher). The transcendental attitudes contained within encourage young girls to self-identify rather than conforming to societal pressures. I liked that my daughter saw this. It worked really well.
In terms of performances, I kind of feel like a lot of the actors were misused. Oprah is fine in this movie, but at the end of the day, she's just giant Oprah. Reese Witherspoon plays things large and in charge, but that might not be exactly the goddess like attitude that the movie really needed. I feel like Mindy Kaling got the shortest end of the sticks, being a very adept comedian and actress. However, she gets the fewest lines and they are all quotes. I know that someone could have really pulled that off. I don't think it is necessarily Kaling's fault so much as the role wasn't meaty enough to play with. I actually would have loved to see Witherspoon and Kaling switch roles. Also, I was kind of bummed by half of Charles Wallace's performance. His real name isn't Charles Wallace. Deric McCabe delivered a great evil Charles Wallace, but kind of a boring normal Charles Wallace. McCabe made the second half of the movie work for me, but I kept rolling my eyes in the first half of the movie. I know, I'm slamming a little kid. But these were moments that just felt kind of pander-y. If DuVernay directed him a little bit differently, I would have loved to see the kid genius play out a little bit better. I hate that I keep writing this sentence in many of my reviews, but I acknowledge that the movie wasn't for me. It was meant for kids, which means the movie feels like it has to be pandery. But many people don't like this movie. I do, but I just want to it be better.
I enjoyed watching it with the kid. She said it was perfect and who am I to argue with genius. She was writing a review and I offered to put it on the blog. She took a hard pass on that one. Regardless, she thought it was great. The movie is aimed at kids like her. She thinks it is perfect, which means kids like Olivia probably also think that it is perfect. As an English teacher and a film teacher, I think it had some work to do. But it is a good movie, just not great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.