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Go on any message board regarding “A Wrinkle in Time” – based on the 1962 children’s novel about young Meg Murry’s journey through the galaxy to rescue her missing father – and you easily find some troll bemoaning the diverse actors of the 2018 film adaptation.
Apparently, casting Storm Reid, 14, as protagonist Meg, a character never racially defined in print, is pushing some social agenda. Apparently, placing a black teen in a lead role can only be the work of those libs. Such complaints are always camouflage for something far less innocent, so let’s break down why haters don’t understand.
When Madeleine L’Engle tried to publish “Wrinkle” in the 1960s, she was rejected upwards of 26 times. Too weird, too long, too adult for kids, too science heavy, the complaints went. She refused to change her story for publishers, preserving a unique depiction of evil and her long-held belief that such forces are not fought with traditional weapons but through nonviolent means (she worked this into her fiction whenever possible). All this in a story with not one but multiple prominent female roles, particularly alien beings Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). Sorry Aunt Beast fans, she only gets a cameo on screen.
This is especially more intriguing since L’Engle was a devout Christian, and white evangelicalism has not been the greatest to women or people of color. But her individual faith convictions would absolutely align with the film production’s choices, namely casting nonwhite performers like Reid, Winfrey, Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Mrs. Murry and Michael Peña as the Man with Red Eyes.
And then there’s the history-making news that acclaimed director Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) became the first black woman to helm a film with a budget over $100 million (never expected Disney to be first to break that glass ceiling). Again, L’Engle would be an ally on this as well. All this to say, anybody who wants to talk about any “agenda” surrounding the film probably doesn’t know just how progressive L’Engle was during her prime.
All this doesn’t, however, mean the film is perfect. While DuVernay modernizes the story effectively, complete with beautiful cinematography – thanks to Tobias A. Schliessler – and some beautiful visual graphics, it does stumble along the way. Much like the novel, introductions of all three “Mrs.” characters result in three awkward scenes that happen without transition, and to a film score by Ramin Djawadi that’s entirely out of place, emphasizing melodrama rather than something more playful.
Perhaps the most distracting misstep is the use of modern pop songs on several occasions during the film, either to compliment a montage or explain an emotional moment. This is quite common in most children’s films, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. In one key scene toward the end, Meg makes a significant discovery that’s almost completely undermined by this practice.
In some ways, “Wrinkle” is both a splendid film and a missed opportunity. It is a children’s film, after all, and while studios like Pixar attempt to construct stories for broader audiences, this one seems less worried about older audiences. So uneven performances by younger actors are forgiven to a degree – Reid is not on this list, she is amazing – because children’s films have a different audience expectation. And Kaling and Witherspoon are also let off the hook for rather corny line delivery.
But in the midst of this children’s film, some incredible moments sneak through. The film’s villain, simply called The IT (voiced by David Oyelowo), has spread throughout the galaxy, even infecting Earth. Rather than generically discuss its presence, “Wrinkle” provides actual examples of it at work in people’s lives, and they might hit close to home.
For some viewers, the childish elements coupled with touchier content might work. Others, not so much. But if is too childish, perhaps it’s important to remember what L’Engle said: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
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