Disney’s adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s classic young adult novel is a mixed bag at best. The story’ ideas aren’t realised on the screen very well, but there is some nice talk about quantum physics, physics, and science as spiritualism throughout the film that I really enjoyed.
Director DuVernay, best known for her documentary work, in cluding an Oscar nod for 13th, helms the film, and it’s never quite clear what she wants to do with it. There was the potential to do something magical with this film, but it flounders.
At the heart of the story is Meg (Storm Reid) who’s parents Mr. Murry (Chris Pine) and Mrs. Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are both scientists who are on the verge of a spectacular revelation regarding the nature of the universe, thought, and our abilities to traverse it.
And then her father disappears.
Four years later Meg is still troubled, her adopted brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) is brilliant, if odd, and neither of them can seem to fit in at school, where they are constantly talked about, but not talked to.
Enter three interdimensional beings who have been summoned by Murry’s call. They plan to help Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin (Levi Miller) find the lost Mr. Murry and confront a darkness known only as The It.
Unfortunately, every time they show up in the film, the movie grinds to a halt. I’m not sure who thought casting Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling as these aliens was a good idea, but the film comes to a full and complete stop every second they are on screen. They aren’t playing the characters that were written in the books, they are playing variations of themselves (Oprah is literally larger than life, just like her persona) and instead of advancing the story, or providing support to the characters everything pauses to take in the fact that these three talents are in the film.
Which detracts from it, and the performances of the young leads.
And they have enough problems on their own, because their character arcs are non-existent, and their motivations and behaviours seem to stop and flip on a dime, depending on what is needed for the story.
Having read the first three novels in the series recently, I know that some of the story would have been tough to film, but a stronger script, and some actual character beats for the young actors would have been something.
The film’s ending is anticlimactic at best, and it doesn’t feel like anything was truly at risk, and this journey they talked about going on was way too short to actually have any impact on them, let alone the viewers.
The production design, and the beauty of the film is nice, and one has to wonder how many suits interfered with DuVernay’s vision, and I’m not sure who came up with the Reese Witherspoon plant creature, but that was a swing and a miss.
I think if the script had stuck a little closer to the book (there were moments that could have really played as unnerving that were missed opportunities), and the story had actually focused on Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin with the three Mrs. relegated to the sidelines and not three superstars trying to draw attention to themselves, as well as some of science and physics, this could have been a smart, empowering film.
Instead, I’d rather iron this wrinkle out. Sorry Disney, you have no idea how hard that was for me to write.
Read the book instead.