By: Kevin Jordan
And several in my brow.
Recently, I have watched a couple of classic movies with my five-year old son – Jaws and the original Godzilla (the black and white Japanese version from 1954). He loved them and has now watched them multiple times. And, in case you are wondering, no, he has not had any nightmares (#goodparenting). Upon completion of a screening of the horrific A Wrinkle in Time, my friend asserted that I was being too hard on a movie aimed at kids and that my son would probably enjoy A Wrinkle in Time. We are talking about a child who has also watched Titanic at least twenty times and I assured her that he would be bored out of his mind watching A Wrinkle in Time.
(Do I really need to issue a SPOILER ALERT for a 56-year old book that almost everyone has read except me?)
Having not read the book, I do not know why so many people have such fond memories of it, but if the book is anything like the movie, then those people have really faulty memories. I had no advanced knowledge of the book, and I watched zero previews. My only bias was based on the rosy nostalgia from friends, so I went into the movie with positive expectations. What I saw was a movie that was the equivalent of the glitter farts from Guy Diamond in Trolls.
What little plot existed in this film revolved around the search for Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine), a physicist who successfully figures out how to teleport himself across the universe, but never returns (the story takes place four years after his disappearance). Unfortunately, nobody knows about the teleportation idea except his wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), so everyone believes him to have simply run out on his family and life. Luckily, precocious young Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), Alex’s adopted five-year old son, has been chatting with three magical women, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who want to help find Alex. They enlist Alex’s thirteen-year old daughter, Meg (Storm Reid), who spends most of the movie brooding and sulking, even after she is teleported by witches to other planets, converses with flying flowers, and told that her father is alive. Teenagers, right?
While on the flower planet, they see a black tentacle cloud in the sky, identified by Mrs. Which as the It and that the It is pure evil. Mrs. Which also explains that the three women are warriors that fight the It to prevent evil from spreading, but that they avoid the It. Paging Mrs. ExcuseMeWhatNow? Did you just say you fight the It by steering clear of it? This is the first of many, many (MANY) nonsensical statements and actions that make you furrow your brow so hard you draw blood. It turns out the three Mrs. are nothing more than exposition spouts who can teleport, but are actually worse than that. At the start of the third act, they literally tell Meg, Charles Wallace (who is annoyingly always referred to by his full name), and Calvin (Levi Miller) – a boy who has a crush on Meg and is brought along on the quest for his diplomatic skills, which consist entirely of telling Meg she has great hair – that they are leaving the evil planet they brought the kids to, so the kids are on their own. But, don’t worry, each Mrs. gives the kids a gift to aid their quest, consisting of magic eyeglasses that only work in a special room that only the It can take them to, Meg’s character faults (not kidding), and advice to never split up (still not kidding). Of course, being teenagers, they almost immediately leave Charles alone, but overcome evil when Meg screams her faults at the It.
It is worth noting here that the three women are terribly written characters and the actors knew it. Oprah appeared as disinterested as possible, as Mrs. Which is given nothing to do beyond wearing sparkly, aluminum foil outfits with cartoonish, glittery makeup and sequined eyebrows. Mrs. Who literally only speaks in random quotations from other people (most of which aren’t even recognizable), and very few of them for that matter, and Kaling was visibly frustrated at how obviously worthless her character was. As the rookie warrior (whatever the hell that means) Mrs. Whatsit, Witherspoon chews up scenes trying to cover for the fact that Whatsit is kind of a blithering jerk whose dialogue sounded like Witherspoon had to make it up on the spot.
During all of this nonsense, there is no point in which we get a clear idea of any motivations for anything happening besides Meg wanting to find her dad. We don’t know why the It has been holding Alex other than the It is evil, we don’t know if the It actually wants Charles (he’s mentioned as being a genius, though the only indication of it is he is articulate) or Meg (she had a high GPA before Alex went missing, so…) or why the It doesn’t just murder them all when they show up on the It’s planet. Most importantly, we are never given any sense of time or urgency regarding how long they have to find Alex or stop evil, but the It can make sandwiches out of actual sand so Alex simply must be rescued.
Rather than strive for a coherent plot or use its characters to any worthwhile affect (including getting the audience to empathize), the screenplay focuses on a love-trumps-evil trope, fashions it into a cudgel, and bludgeons the audience with it in the hope of keeping us from noticing the movie sucking. But it’s not just the writing that makes this film so lousy. The special effects range from top notch (the first planet they go to is visually stunning) to elementary school play (a scene with Zach Galifianakis asks all of the actors to pretend to teeter while standing on what look like painted-orange Styrofoam blocks). The music was like listening to four kids singing through kazoos for the last five hours of a road trip. Most of the actors appear to be there against their will, delivering performances as shallow as their characters. The film even manages to insult the intelligence of the audience when Alex attributes the success of certain scientific achievements to magic and Meg incorrectly explains how lift works when flying. You might think that second one is a nitpick, but when a film goes out of its way to tell you a character is brainy, then has her explain a scientific concept wrong, it deserves a call-out. Plus, it’s a fantasy film – why are they talking about science at all?
Despite this film being a front runner for worst movie of the year (relax, it’s early, folks), I still want to read the book. I have a really hard time believing that so many people are remembering a shoddy book so favorably, and I am always willing to give a book a chance. But, if the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, I will be pointing my kid toward reading Cujo because I know what my kid likes (#parentingfail).
Rating: Ask for all of your money back, plus the twenty minutes of my son’s music class that I gave up to get to this movie on time (#iffyparenting).