A Wrinkle In Time: a lovely, messy, warm, flop

Hand in hand: Reese Witherspoon and 14-year-old Storm Reid star in A Wrinkle in Time. © Disney

Does it matter what film critics think? A Wrinkle In Time adapts a beloved American fantasy novel. Some reviewers praise the film as revolutionary — others say it is a “noble failure”.

It was a dark and stormy night…

This opening line has been a cliché for almost 200 years, a “posterchild for bad story starters”, as Writer’s Digest once put it. It is also the first sentence of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel A Wrinkle In Time, which has now been adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster. (It hits UK cinemas today.)

The story that follows is anything but a cliché. It is a surreal tale of a science prodigy named Meg, who jumps through space and time via tesseracts — the titular “wrinkles” in the universe. She is searching for her missing father, and saving the world.

Meg is guided by three celestial beings known as the “Mrs”. First to appear is Mrs Whatsit (played by Reese Witherspoon in this adaptation), the youngest at a mere 2.3 billion years old. She is joined by Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) who speaks only in quotations. And then there is the wisest and most powerful of all: Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey).

The book has sold over 10 million copies worldwide since the 1960s. It “kicked open the door” for young, female heroines like Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger, wrote Smithsonian recently.

Now, the film is being called revolutionary for its carefully diverse cast and crew. Behind the camera is Ava DuVernay, the first African American woman to direct a live action movie with a budget over £100 million. She told Time magazine that she wanted the Mrs to be “black, white and someone who wasn’t either,” and that she was casting “icons” not actresses.

She also chose a mixed-race girl to play Meg, who many readers had assumed was white.

There is just one problem amidst the hype: critics do not actually like the film. It is “wildly uneven, weirdly suspenseless, and tonally all over the place”, wrote Variety. “Frustratingly safe”, said The Verge. “Tentative and over-protective”, said The Guardian. In general, the professionals have admired its vision and performances, but concluded that something is “missing”.

Should people care what they think?

Poison pens

No, say some. For one thing, the movie is aimed at children and not snobby adult critics. But it is more than that: professional reviewers are becoming irrelevant in the age of social media. Audiences often disagree with critics, and now people can quickly find out what the public thinks. Everyone’s a critic, as another old cliché says. Good.

We should listen to film critics, argue others. The best ones understand movies and storytelling on a level that many of us don’t. They do not pan movies because it is fun; they have a duty to be honest, and to cut through the noise so that cinema fans do not waste money on bad films. With social media so crowded, an expert opinion is more valuable than ever.

You Decide

  1. Do you see films based on their reviews?
  2. Can a film be objectively good, or is it all a matter of opinion?

Activities

  1. Write a 100-word review of a film you have seen recently. Remember — do not just write whether you liked it or not, but include why you felt that way.
  2. Time to write your own literary cliché! Pen the opening chapter to a novel which begins “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Some People Say...

“If it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children.”

Madeleine L’Engle

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The film is released today in the UK (Friday March 23). It has been out in the US since March 9, where it made $33 million in its opening weekend; a modest amount considering its $100 million budget. For comparison, Black Panther made $202 million in its opening weekend in the US in February.
What do we not know?
Why audiences are not going to see the film in as large numbers as expected in the US, and how much influence the tepid reviews had over them. After all, it has all the hallmarks of a success: an all-star cast, a beloved childhood novel, and an acclaimed director. We also do not know whether it will fare better in the UK and abroad.

Word Watch

200 years
It first appeared as the opening line to the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Tesseracts
In geometry, a tesseract is a four-dimensional cube. (With “time” being the fourth dimension.) In A Wrinkle In Time, a tesseract is the name for a fifth dimension which allows people to travel great distances instantly. “A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points,” as Mrs Whatsit says.
2.3 billion
Or, as she says in the book: “2,379,152,497 years, 8 months, and 3 days” old.
Quotations
In the book, Mrs Who quotes great minds like Da Vinci, Einstein and Jesus. (Equating Jesus with other philosophers led to the book being banned from many schools in America.) In the film, she also quotes modern-day philosophers like Jay-Z and Justin Bieber.
Ava DuVernay
The director is also the only African American woman to have been nominated for an Oscar, for 2014’s Selma.
Disagree
According to data analysis by Gizmodo, audiences love Warcraft and Love Actually , but critics hate them. Meanwhile, critics love Ghostbusters and Moonlight, but audiences aren’t so keen.

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