As someone who has never read A Wrinkle in Time, I cannot attest to how faithful of an adaptation the new Disney film is. That said, I did thoroughly enjoy it. It’s not as action-heavy or unpredictable as many of the other young adult movies I’ve seen, and its message of female empowerment and self-love are much stronger.
The story centers on 13-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a science whiz, and her younger brother Charles Wallace Murry (Deric McCabe), a child genius, as they struggle to deal with the mysterious disappearance of their father Alex (Chris Pine), a NASA scientist.
Four years after her father vanished without a trace, Meg has become defiant, guarded and the target of bullies, most notably Veronica Kiley (Rowan Blanchard), a girl who seems to have it all. Her principal (André Holland) and even her mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is also a NASA scientist, seem at a loss for how to help her cope.
Charles Wallace, a charismatic, perpetual optimist, consistently offers his sister love and support, but he changes her life in a unique way no one could have anticipated when he introduces her to his celestial friends Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who is friendly but blunt, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), a bookworm who speaks in quotes more often than in her own words, and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the wise and maternal leader of this crew.
These three female beings inform Meg and Charles Wallace that their father, who had been working on a revolutionary method of space-time travel, is being held inside the universe by an evil force. They promise to help the children rescue him. Joined by Meg’s classmate Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller), the siblings set out on an epic journey through which they learn much about the universe and about themselves.
The plot can be formulaic and confusing at times. It also moves along with fewer complications, or wrinkles if you will, than I’d expected. However, the power of its central themes cannot be understated. With a script penned by Jennifer Lee, the Oscar-winning writer and co-director of Frozen, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the movie explores the difficulties of learning to love yourself.
Mrs. Which, the celestial being with whom Meg bonds most strongly, is given the most potentially cheesy lines as she strives to help Meg boost her self-confidence. But Winfrey’s earnest and not overly dramatic delivery makes them poignant and inspiring for Meg as well as for those watching.
Mrs. Whatsit, who often calls out Meg for having a pessimistic attitude, also tries to set her on the path to accepting herself. When the celestials offer gifts to help the young heroine find her father, Mrs. Whatsit tells a perplexed Meg, “To you, I give the gift of your faults.”
Aptly-timed for our current political climate, the film also explores the reality that everyone has struggles, even someone like Calvin who hides his pain well or like Veronica who takes her pain out on others. As Meg struggles to stop judging herself so harshly, she is forced to reckon with the realization that she also might be judging others too quickly.
I believe A Wrinkle in Time has the potential to be especially meaningful for young girls, who begin facing pressures and expectations about their intellect, demeanor and bodies around middle school, if not before. Even at 22, I felt the movie provided messages that still felt relevant and worth hearing.
That being said, there is no reason why the movie shouldn’t also impact boys, who certainly face societal pressures and expectations of their own that are often under-discussed. Furthermore, role models can and should cross gender lines. Girls of our generation grew up identifying with Hermione Granger but also Harry Potter. Now, young boys can strive to “be a warrior” like Meg Murry.
Additionally, the power of Meg Murry, the protagonist of a mainstream young adult movie, being a young black girl cannot be understated. Prevailing beliefs about female actors and blacks actors being unable to carry movies have only recently begun to be questioned and called out, and A Wrinkle in Time shatters them.
Furthermore, Meg is not an ingénue or girl next door. She is fierce, strong-willed and braver than any other character in the movie. She is brought to life by an equally strong Reid, who never over-acts and is never overshadowed by her adult co-stars. Reid’s younger co-star McCabe has an equally strong and mature presence, which is particularly evident at the movie’s climax.
Lastly, I must mention the incredible direction by Golden Globe and Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay. Given its fantastical elements, A Wrinkle in Time could have easily been botched in less skilled hands. But, crucially, DuVernay’s worldbuilding makes the settings just as captivating as the story itself.