Monday, March 19, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

I thought highly of this book when I was in my early teens. I re-read the series it kicked off as an adult and was less impressed. I went and saw the Disney movie more-or-less based on it this past Friday night, and was seriously underwhelmed. Since then, I've received a secondhand report about an interview in which the screenwriter admitted to feeling free to hijack the message of Madeleine L'Engle's teen fantasy/romance classic, removing most of the Christianity-based material and replacing with New Agey, Oprah-ish stuff. Perhaps not coincidentally, Oprah Winfrey gets top billing in the cast, playing a character that was much less substantial in the book. Much of what made me impatient with this movie had to do with the amount of screen time devoted to Oprah's Miss Which character offering nuggets of daytime-talk-show life-coaching psychobabble to troubled main character Meg Murry. Another chunk of what made me impatient was its plodding pace and its tendency to wallow too much in touchy-feeliness. The ending of the movie in particular had that "when is this damn movie going to end" vibe, thanks to the number of individual hugs and kisses between various combinations of characters that the writing and directing team felt it required. They could have gotten the same payoff for less - and when you already can't wait for a movie to end, less is definitely more - by simply having everybody rush into a group hug and rolling credits. Even the credits were over-indulgent, though, with not just one lingering still of each main cast member, but a whole series of them. Oy vay!

The film had exactly this going for it: a cute cast (notwithstanding the unnecessary emphasis on Oprah); gorgeous photography; spectacular costumes, makeup and hairstyles; gosh-wow special effects; and the handful of scenes that it relatively faithfully duplicated from the book - like the suburb from hell, with all the kids bouncing red rubber balls in perfect unison, in a rhythm that made Charles Wallace's head hurt. But its pacing was slack and it kept pulling back from being a cosmically significant story, which was in my opinion the better part of what sold the L'Engle book. In spite of my overall dissatisfaction with the movie, I can even list three scenes that "made" it for me, to the extent that the movie was "made" for me at all: (1) Calvin, the cute boy who takes a shine to Meg for reasons she cannot fathom, tells her early in the movie that he likes her hair and she replies, "Don't. Just don't." Later, after they've been through hell together and they they pause to wash in a stream and do up her hair, he repeats his compliment and she goes all shy and demure and says, "Thank you." I loved that change in her character. (2) Charles Wallace, the genius little brother, introduces Meg and Calvin to Miss Who, the cosmic warrior who (up to a certain point in the movie, when the screenwriter seemingly quit caring) always speaks in literary quotations. Everything in that scene, from Calvin showing up and saying he had this feeling he needed to be there at that exact time and place, reminded me warmly of the book - one of the few scenes that did. (3) Michael Peña's bit as "Red," a character who increasingly appears to be a puppet guided by strings, is really eerie and menacing. And of course, I've already given up that one about the red bouncing balls.

Unfortunately, the book didn't explore the world of "Camazotz" all that much. It didn't end up having the oppressive, scary, gigantic scale I thought I remembered being conjured by the book. Too much of it was dialed down to a bit of family drama between Meg, her brother, and her dad. The climax of the movie just didn't seem all that climactic to me. And if they're going to pursue this series as a franchise, they're going to regret writing the other Murry siblings out of the script. At the end of the day, this is just another example of the principle that if you really love a book, you should pray that nobody ever makes a film out of it.

No comments: