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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Imagination and Joy Reign Supreme in Ava DuVernay's 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 12:05 PM

Ava DuVernay appears before the theatrical screening of her new film A Wrinkle in Time inviting audiences to view it with their inner 11-year-old in mind. She says that in making the film, she tried to tap into the spirit of joy and hope alive in children — a departure from her two most recent films, Selma and 13th — and encouraged everyone to sit back, relax, and enjoy the film from that perspective.

This turns out to be sound advice.

Though Disney has asked critics not to reveal key plot points, a few broad strokes won't hurt: Wrinkle's inciting event is the disappearance of one Dr. Murray (a lushly bearded Chris Pine), a man convinced that he can travel through space and time by merely finding the proper neural groove.

The plot, then, centers on the the efforts of his two children Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Derek McCabe) and their friend Calvin (Levi Miller) to track him down after a four-year absence. They are aided in their quest by three intergalactic beings, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), a multicultural trio of fairy godmothers, all of whom are gloriously costumed and made-up.

The award-winning novel of the same name, by Madeleine L'Engle, was published in 1962, long before Pixar, action-packed comic book movies and the Harry Potter universe. And while the themes of A Wrinkle in Time would be recognizable in those stories — things like self-discovery, delight at one's own potential, the power of love in the battle of good versus evil — the messaging is sometimes much more direct, the metaphors much less disguised. Evil is not embodied in Lord Voldemort or an alien species hellbent on earth's destruction, it is "The Black Thing" a dark force that makes people mean to one another.

And so DuVernay's advice, that we view the film as children, couldn't be more appropriate. Like the book — which clocked in at little over 200 pages and began with the iconic, "It was a dark and stormy night" — the language of the film is directed at young people. And the enjoyment of Wrinkle seems like it'd be enhanced by (though not contingent upon) finding the proper neural groove — something akin to childlike wonder.

The visuals are wondrous no matter what age you are. Though Wrinkle is more middle-grade than YA (the Twilight teen stuff), the colors of DuVernay's adaptation are the rich greens and purples of the genre's often-used cover art. Some scenes, like the pit stop on the Planet Uriel, capture the thrill of what it must be like for a child to immerse herself in science fiction for the first time, to imagine a beautiful planet where flowers talk, to imagine a ride on a magical creature, to imagine an escape from an attic and trouble at school.

(As a friendly reminder, the logistics of the Murray children's space-time hopping are better left unscrutinized.)

As in the Harry Potter films, one of the great delights — for adult viewers — is watching the adult actors fully embrace the material and go for broke in their portrayals. Watching Oprah, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon, along with Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Zach Galifianakis is a treasure.

The film opens areawide Friday. Bring the kids.

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