By Steven Sheehan

Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel, A Wrinkle In Time, brings with it a weight of expectation. Not only is there a $100m budget attached to the production but it has long since proven difficult to find the right way to translate this beloved American novel for the big screen. A TV version was made in 2003 but a cinematic version was kicked around by studio execs for years before Disney finally took the plunge.

It tells the story of Meg (Storm Reid) and her search to find her missing father, Dr Alex Murry (Chris Pine). After disappearing for four years it is presumed he is unlikely to ever return to the family home. Meg has been going through a tough time at school ever since, despite the support of her precocious younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and mother, Dr Kate Murry (Gugu-Mbatha Raw).

After a brief introduction to Meg’s world the arrival of three badly dressed supernatural beings – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah) – gives the young girl a chance to find her father who is trapped somewhere in the depths of the universe. Accompanied by the “Three Mrs”, Charles Wallace and wannabe boyfriend, Calvin (Levi Miller), they head off to rescue Dad from the dark force of “The It”.

DuVernay has mentioned that A Wrinkle In Time is aimed at 8 to 12-year-old girls, although it seems no one bothered to tell scriptwriter Jennifer Lee. A heady mixture of quantum psychics, positive and negative energy and semi-religious metaphors turn the simplest of journeys into a plot that makes next-to-no-sense at all.

Of course, much of this may well exist in L’Engle’s original text supported by pages of much-needed detail and context. But when trying to introduce children to a brand new world and its characters in a two-hour film it makes little sense to overcomplicate the story they are involved in.

It’s hard to tell whether the translation of L’Engle’s text is at the root of the film’s problems, or if the casting process itself was flawed. None of the cast looks comfortable chewing the at times ridiculous dialogue and the performances fail to bridge a connection between the characters and the audience. Oprah Winfrey glides from scene-to-scene as some kind of celestial God, Witherspoon’s wide-eyed quirkiness struggles to raise a laugh, and Kaling is left to awkwardly repeat famous phrases from past and present.

Whether it’s the score, an overuse of CGI or the manufactured saccharine tone of the film, there is plenty to take issue with. But it shouldn’t be forgotten this is unashamedly a kid’s film that wears its heart on its sleeve throughout. The daughter/father narrative is likely to wet a few young eyelids while setting off their dewy-eyed parents.

DuVernay’s film does attempt to teach young girls about the importance of self-belief and ignoring the expectations put onto their adolescent shoulders, which can only be viewed in a positive light. Whether or not A Wrinkle In Time will be a film they recall fondly once they reach adulthood remains to be seen.

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