Film & Television

A Wrinkle in Time: Special Effects Distract from a Heroine Whose Time Has Come

Along the way, Meg finds strength she didn’t know she had and realizes that love is more powerful than evil. It’s not exactly a spoiler to reveal that she finds her father, saves her brother, and even makes friends with the meanest of the mean girls back at school.

When asked by Entertainment Weekly about her experience playing Meg, Reid (whose earlier work includes playing the bastard slave child Emily in 12 Years a Slave) draws parallels between her character and herself:

“I feel like I grew up — as an actress and as a teenager — while playing Meg. She’s powerful and so smart and so beautiful, and the fact that she doesn’t realize that and has to go on this tumultuous journey to figure it out that she is the light for herself. I think that would have moved me if I wasn’t in the movie. I’m glad that I get to experience both sides of that.”

It’s Meg’s journey that interests us and Reid certainly holds her own alongside a star-filled cast of grownups. Her performance is multidimensional. She’s ecstatic when she finds her beloved father, but we sense that she may never truly trust him again. He insists he would never have left her by choice, but he also admits that he couldn’t resist the chance to touch the universe. Although her precocious brother has been fearless throughout their trek, she rescues him through her stubborn, almost matter-of-fact love. And, when her parents are reunited, Meg recognizes that their relationship doesn’t include her. And she’s all right with that. She has grown up and into herself.

These scenes are the most meaningful and it’s here that DuVernay pulls the best performances out of her cast. Too many other scenes rely on elaborate effects, costumes and make-up. The “Mrs.” for example appear in different extravagant gowns and wigs in every scene. And their make-up (including glitter lipstick and eye shadow and bejeweled brows) make them seem less like goddesses and more like runners up on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Again, the beauty (and budget) become a distraction.

One significant way that DuVernay updated L’Engle’s nearly 60-year old novel is through the diversity of her casting. Meg is biracial, which adds nuance to her feelings of being an outcast. (At one point, Calvin tells her she has beautiful hair and she self-consciously corrects him.) The “Mrs.” are more powerful and universal because they represent different ethnic groups. “Mrs. Who” (Kaling) has evolved beyond her own ability to speak. She quotes Shakespeare, Rumi and Goethe, and in this more modern retelling, Outkast and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Although A Wrinkle in Time has been compared to Wonder Woman, DuVernay is quick to focus on the more human element. “This film is about a girl in a plaid shirt and glasses who goes to a regular school. She’s not a Jedi, she’s not royalty, she has no superpowers.”

DuVernay’s on the right track here. The best way to enjoy A Wrinkle in Time — and there is much to enjoy and celebrate here despite some overall disappointment — is to get past the Hollywood royalty and super-powered special effects.

Focus instead on Meg and her story, and look forward to more adventures for girls (and great things for the film’s young star) in Hollywood’s future.

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