Ava Duvernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Is a Trippy Tale About the Path to Self-Acceptance

A beloved children’s novel is given a modern twist thanks to one of the freshest voices in Hollywood, as groundbreaking “Selma” director Ava DuVernay has put her own spin on Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in Time.” The arrival of this film adaptation is hardly news for anyone who hasn’t spent the last several months in a cave, as no expense has been spared in promoting a film featuring three of the most prominent women in entertainment — television star Mindy Kaling, Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon, and the great media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey. Despite these big names and the even bigger special effects, this film is at its heart the story of teen girl’s path to self-acceptance.

Although the film is set in modern day, just like in the novel the story centers on Meg Murry (Storm Reid), an awkward and intelligent middle school student. Four years before the main events of the story, Meg’s scientist father, Alex (Chris Pine), disappeared without a trace, leaving behind not only Meg, but also her mother, fellow scientist Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and her little brother Charles Wallace (scene stealer Deric McCabe). Because Charles Wallace had just been adopted into the family when his father left, he does not have the same void as his sister, but feels sadness due to his love for her. As anyone who has ever been to middle school can attest, middle schoolers can be a cruel bunch, and poor Meg, who can best be described as being ahead for her time due to her brilliance, is an easy target for bullies, who cruelly tease her about her dad’s disappearance. However, she finds a kindred spirit in Calvin (Levi Miller), a fellow outcast from a troubled home, and, along with Charles Wallace, they set off on a mission to rescue Alex, one that takes them through the universe.

Acting as the kids’ guides in the early stages of their journey are three fairy godmothers of sorts played the aforementioned actresses — the flighty Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon), the serene Mrs. Who (Kaling) and the wise Mrs. Which (Winfrey). All three women push Meg to let go of her fears in order to save her dad, who is trapped by evil energy. However, it is Mrs. Which who is the most important of three. Like any teen girl, Meg has fantasies of becoming someone else, but is the matronly Mrs. Which who convinces her that she already has the tools within her to be the best version of herself. “Be a warrior,” she says. This is the kind of role that was tailor-made for the regal Winfrey; no one else could bring such gravitas to the role (except for maybe Meryl Streep).

DuVarney departs from the source material by making her Murry family, like many in today’s America, multicultural, as Kate is African-American and Alex is white. Their daughter has a full head of curly hair, a feature that contributes to her insecurity, and assurances from her admirer Calvin that she has nice hair only adds to her feelings of self-consciousness. The viewer is left with the impression that she would rather look like her straight-haired, white bully, Veronica (Rowan Blanchard). However, upon closer examination, it is revealed that Veronica has demons of her own. That’s the beauty about the world DuVarney has created here, there are no clear-cut villains and everyone is deserving of empathy. For all the emphasis on the importance of science in “A Wrinkle in Time,” faith plays an important role, as Meg must first have faith in herself before any real changes can be made.

To say that “A Wrinkle in Time” is a visually stunning film would be an understatement. Trippy may be the best way to describe the world the children encounter here. The downside of this adaptation is that it is too cluttered and falls short when it comes bringing to life the fantasy aspects of a book that has charmed generations of readers. As DuVarney has been a natural filmmaker up to this point, it may be fair to say that she was out of her depth when it came to encompassing all the fantastically elements of the novel into a two-hour film in a way that truly does the source material justice. But what she does get right here, as she does in all of her films, is tap into real emotions and the struggle of being an outsider.

A Wrinkle in Time” opens March 9 in theaters nationwide.