Meg Murry isn’t cool. And she isn’t uncool in a secretly-cool way, like how teen girl protagonists from Belle to Katniss to Lady Bird are just too clever, too rebellious, too idiosyncratic, too real for their oppressively humdrum towns.
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She is smart, and she can be brave and kind, but mostly she’s just an ordinary sort of adolescent misfit – the kind that wishes more than almost anything that she could be someone else. Someone prettier, maybe, or sweeter or more popular or less angry. Less too much.
A Wrinkle in Time is for all the girls – and boys, and non-binary kids, and teens and adults and the elderly – who’ve ever been a Meg. It’s a flawed film that entreats us to love flawed things, up to and including our very own selves.
Maybe that sounds like a hoary cliché now. It didn’t feel like one when I was watching the movie, which is so disarming earnest that I fell completely under its spell.
Directed by Ava DuVernay and based on the novel by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time finds Meg four years after the mysterious disappearance of her father (Chris Pine). It’s been a rough time for her, made all the rougher by the mean girls who mock her for not fitting in and the teachers who scold her for acting out.
Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey bring the star power as Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit.
Image: Atsushi Nishijima / Disney
Then odd things start to happen. Her precocious kid brother, Charles Wallace – always called “Charles Wallace,” never just “Charles” or, god forbid, “Chuck” – befriends one celestial being, then another, and then another.
Before Meg really even understands what’s going on, she’s being whisked away to distant planets in search of her father, with Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin (Levi Miller) by her side. Looming over their journey is a vaguely defined darkness called the IT (no relations to It), which represents all that is cold and cruel and evil about the universe.
There are eerie worlds and idyllic ones, and all of them are filled with vivid characters. Mrs. Whatsit – one of the celestial beings – is played by Oprah Winfrey and basically is Oprah Winfrey, a wise and uplifting presence. Also lovable is Zach Galifianakis as the Happy Medium, a seer who looks like a manbunned yoga instructor and has a thing going with Mrs. Which (Reese Witherspoon).
But the bulk of the movie rests on Storm Reid, and the young actress proves more than up to the challenge. Her Meg carries herself like someone feeling tentative about her own experience – her movements are uncertain, her face guarded, her voice timid – and yet she’s impossible to ignore, thanks to Reid’s luminous presence.
Between this and Wonder Woman, Chris Pine is becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for “decent dude supporting character in female-driven, female-directed fantasy adventures.”
Image: Atsushi Nishijima / Disney
Her best scenes are with Pine, and their characters share the strongest connection – theirs is a love so strong, it calls to Meg across worlds. Theirs make for some of the most gut-wrenching moments in the film, as Meg starts to better understand him not just as her idealized yet distant father, but as a fellow flesh-and-blood human.
There’s a lot about A Wrinkle in Time that doesn’t quite work. A lot of the CG fantasy worlds look like, well, CG fantasy worlds – nothing about them feels real or concrete. The dialogue can be stilted and the plotting can be jerky. Charles Wallace is borderline insufferable as a character (though actor Deric McCabe’s performance gets more fun in the second half of the film).
And yes, it’s all pretty cheesy. The real wrinkle in time is love, or the friends we made along the way, or something like that. This is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, so if you’re not emotionally invested right away, you’re in for a long couple of hours.
But even A Wrinkle in Time‘s flaws are kind of endearing, particularly since they mostly come down to this movie being too ambitious and too sincere and too strange. (Did we really need an expensive but unconvincing CG flying Swiss chard giant? No, but god bless this movie for giving us one anyway.) It may not be perfect, but it’s wholly, unapologetically itself. And I don’t think I’d have it any other way.