Sunday 16 December 2018

A Wrinkle in Time movie review: 'Disney's space romp is a windy, worthy bore'

2 stars

Which craft: Oprah is terrifying as Mrs Which
Which craft: Oprah is terrifying as Mrs Which
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Dealing with an absent father is one thing, but what do you do if your dad has disappeared into deep space?

That's the question posed by this frothy interstellar Disney confection, which is based on a 1960s children's novel by Madeleine L'Engle and directed by Ava DuVernay, whose star is high at the moment thanks to Selma and her brilliant documentary 13th. Those films tackled the thorny issue of race head on, but this one is dreamier fare, a coming-of-age fantasy which blends new age spirituality and astronomy - unhappy bedfellows, it transpires.

Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is not doing well at school. She was once an A student, but four years ago her beloved father Alexander (Chris Pine) vanished without a trace while working in his laboratory. And though Meg and her mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) believe he was inadvertently transported to another world while solving the mysteries of the universe, no one else is convinced and her schoolmates rib her mercilessly. As a result, the 13-year-old has become contemptuous of authority and is falling behind in her studies.

At least she has an admirer. Calvin (Levi Miller) is smitten with the moody Meg and is hanging out with her and her precociously brainy little brother Charles Wallace (Deiric McCabe) when a strange woman comes a calling. Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) speaks funny and claims she's an astral traveller dedicated to battling the forces of darkness.

She's not alone and is soon joined by Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), an extraterrestrial seer, and Mrs Which, a god-like being played by a giant and disconcertingly Tellytubby-ish Oprah Winfrey. Their proposition is a simple one: Meg, Charles and Calvin must accompany them on a journey across the Universe to find Alexander, who's still alive.

They will travel instantaneously, by slipping hither and thither in the astral realm using the fifth dimension as a shortcut. Apart from a little sea-sickness, the process is quick and painless, and soon Meg and co are conversing with talking flowers and alien sages as they edge closer to tracking down her dad.

Meg and Charles with Mrs Whatsit
Meg and Charles with Mrs Whatsit

DuVernay says A Wrinkle In Time is not for cynics. She's not kidding: from the get-go it smothers you with giddy space fairies and misunderstood teens waiting to be interdimensionally distracted.

Bright colours and loud special effects are thrown around like confetti, especially when the travellers arrive on an alien planet so garishly decorated it would make a Salvador Dali landscape look drab.

Bad taste set design is not the only problem: DuVernay and her writers have replaced the white heroine of the original novel with Meg, a carefully crafted mixed-race outsider.

Time and again we're reminded that everyone matters, that being different is not a crime and something to be celebrated, and that there's more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophy. All laudable sentiments no doubt, but one tires of being belted over the head with them.

Mindy Kaling as Mrs Who, Oprah Winfrey as Mrs Which and Reese Witherspoon as Mrs Whatsit
Mindy Kaling as Mrs Who, Oprah Winfrey as Mrs Which and Reese Witherspoon as Mrs Whatsit

New age philosophy and hippy platitudes are unsubtly blended with actual science to create a sickly blancmange of a screenplay that is not easy to digest.

Fascinating astrophysical asides are constantly overwhelmed by lush sentiment and fortune cookie platitudes. Most guilty in this latter regard is Mrs Who, who has a numbingly apposite literary quote for every single occasion, which she follows with a helpful acknowledgement "William Shakespeare, British" and so forth. She's a bit of a tic, and big Oprah is terrifying and seems to be peering into the dirty depths of your soul with those giant talk show host eyes.

Some of the acting is okay: Reid makes a convincingly confused and complex teen, Michael Pena gives an amusing turn playing an extraterrestrial confidence trickster, and Zach Galifianakis is fun as The Happy Medium, a rather touchy seer.

But overall A Wrinkle In Time is a windy, worthy bore. (PG, 109mins)

Mindy Kaling as Mrs Who and Storm Reid as Meg
Mindy Kaling as Mrs Who and Storm Reid as Meg

Also releasing this week: Movie reviews: Pacific Rim Uprising, Unsane, The Third Murder, Dark River

Films coming soon...

Isle of Dogs (Bryan Cranston, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bill Murray); Ready Player One (Tye Sheridan, Mark Rylance, Olivia Cooke); Blockers (Leslie Mann, John Cena); Journeyman (Paddy Considine, Jodie Whitaker, Anthony Welsh).

Irish Independent

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