Ava DuVernay (director)
22 March 2018 (released)
10 April 2018
Heroine Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has gone from gifted student to an insecure shadow of her 13-year-old self following the unexplained disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine).
She lives with her equally smart scientist mother, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), her number one cheerleader, and is being bullied by a group of popular girls. Until she is befriended by fellow schoolmate Calvin – who really likes her hair - she mopes about with no friends.
So far so Hollywood, until the bizarrely dressed Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) turns up in her garden to inform Meg and Charles that their mad scientist father is still alive, but is stranded across the universe.
With her even more outlandish companions, Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and a towering (literally) performance from Oprah Winfrey as the wise Mrs Which, the three kids set off on a dangerous mission to bring back Meg’s father via the time-travel experiment Meg’s father used - “tessering” - via something called a tesseract, an object which folds space, enabling them to whizz across galaxies like they were paving stones.
The first planet they come to is inhabited by sentient plants that have mastered the secrets of levitation and “speak colour”. With emerald-green fields and crystal water as far as the eye can see, this world is home to Mrs. Whatsit, who makes a dramatic transformation to whisk them away on a unique kind of magic carpet ride. Next they travel to a cramped, ugly place where the characters balance precariously on giant gemstones while Zach Galifianakis gives them a clue as to Dr. Murry’s whereabouts.
Director Ava DuVernay does her best to translate Madeleine L'Engle's much-loved book onto the big screen, but unfortunately it’s not always a success.
At times the CGI looks unconvincing, and for $100 million budget, it still sometimes feels like corners were cut. And the story at times seems to jump from one situation to the next too quickly, with little explanation. For instance when Charles Wallace turned up with his new friend Mrs Whatsit, there was no explanation as to how they had met. And Oprah’s initial appearance is slightly comical, although it’s not meant to be.
During her journey, as well as fighting to save her father, Meg has to battle her own insecurities about her appearance, and the deep cracks in her psyche left by her dad’s apparent abandonment. In one scene she journeys within the mind of the planet’s dark force, known as the IT. There, she’s presented with an alternate version of herself who struts around with self-confidence, better clothes, and more notably straightened hair. An image that is used to assault her psyche.
And it’s this focus on Meg, an exceptional performance, by Storm, that helps the film find its stride. Her journey to overcome her self-doubt, and fear, is the heart of the film which eventually delivers an important message about embracing your difference, your faults and believing in yourself which will prove empowering to its young viewers.