Director Ava DuVernay makes ‘A WRINKLE IN TIME’ an “experience” not just “a movie”


Oprah Winfrey and Storm Reid in A WRINKLE IN TIME. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

The world might feel like it’s crumbling down all around you. You may feel the darkness seeping into the atmosphere. Our society seems to be disintegrating. This is why now, more than ever, it’s important to have cinema to remind us of the hope and light that surrounds us. Filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s epic, emotionally saturated sci-fi fantasy film A WRINKLE IN TIME stands as a pillar of hope in today’s dark times.

In the film adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s best-selling book, Meg (Storm Reid) is tasked with traveling through time and space, going through the impossible, to find her missing father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine). Led by three cosmic guides (played by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey), she, her precocious little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and crush Calvin (Levi Miller) must use their smarts and wits to locate the missing scientist. But it’s not going to be easy since a darkness threatens to overtake their mission.

DuVernay (SELMA, 13th, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE) put the needs of her target audience at the forefront turning this from a beloved book into a future beloved film. The affable storyteller emphasized during the Los Angeles press conference…

This is a film for young people and people who are young at heart.

Though she joked she was leery if she still had a heart, she found she could tap into the inner child within her to bring the imaginative spirit of the book to life.

Could I find that light in me that used to have – that dreamer? I got to do that for two years. I got to really get in touch with all that I thought I would be when I was young and try to create some magic.

In order to give this a more modern sheen, screenwriter Jennifer Lee (FROZEN) and DuVernay dissected the novel’s timeless qualities. Lee stated,

We talked a lot about what made it resonate for decades. We looked at what are those themes today and what do they mean today and how do we stay true to them.

Reese Witherspoon and Storm Reid in A WRINKLE IN TIME. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

One of those main themes deals with being the light in a dark place. DuVernay said working on this film was the light shining for her in the midst of darkness – and hopes that’s what she’ll be imparting to people.

We tried to give a little bit of sweetness to the world in these dark times. It’s a tough time right now, and this film really saved me, in a lot of ways, from going down dark holes and staying in a light-filled place.

Oprah Winfrey didn’t hesitate for a minute in signing on to be a part of WRINKLE once DuVernay put out the call for a Mrs. Which.

I didn’t even know what [the project] was. It was like, ‘I’ll do it.’ And then I thought, ‘Let me read the book and see what this is.’ I had never read the book – and I’m a reader. It wasn’t until the very first day I was called for the fitting with the costumes that I realized, ‘Whoa. This is some kind of movie.’ And the first day on the wires I was like, ‘This is really some kind of movie.’

Reese Witherspoon, who plays the chipper Mrs. Whatsit, was immediately taken with DuVernay’s approach.

It’s very flattering to be a part of Ava’s movies because she doesn’t just make movies – she makes an experience for everyone. She cares about what happens in front of the camera and what happens behind the camera. Everybody feels like they are important, honored, valued for their contributions. This was a masterclass in how to be a very thoughtful filmmaker and a real visionary.

Taking on the challenge of playing the well-read, knowledgeable Mrs. Who was a no-brainer for Mindy Kaling, not only because she loved the part, but because she loves this genre.

I loved science-fiction and fantasy growing up, but it was a genre that largely did not love me back. I never saw any representation that was a dark-skinned Indian woman or girl in anything that I saw. It’s really a peculiar thing when you grow up loving something that shows you no love back. It’s such a pure love, because you’re not getting anything from it. To be part of this movie, and to be on a green-screen stage, in harnesses, because you’re doing a science-fiction/ fantasy movie, it’s so fun. I finally feel welcomed with open arms. That’s so profound!

Mindy Kaling and Storm Reid in A WRINKLE IN TIME. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Zach Galifianakis, who plays the man-bunned Happy Medium, got choked up talking about his experience and the effect the film will have not just for girls and young women, but also for boys.

To be involved in a big, big movie like this, makes me real proud. I can’t really talk about it without getting emotional. It’s good for young boys – young men, even – to see that it’s okay to have a sensitive side to you. I think young boys in this climate, if they’re seen as sensitive, they’re made fun of. But that means they are stronger. I wish we would change that. I come from a very masculine upbringing and a lot of people do. But it’s time for balance.

For Levi Miller, who plays Meg’s crush Calvin, growing up in a household dominated by two older sisters, he was happy to see how the film could change hearts and minds with its sentiments on equanimity.

The toxic masculinity nowadays is rampant in society, so it’s a very special story that everyone needs to know.

Winfrey, ever the sage guiding voice of these modern times, echoed WRINKLE’s sentiments about having hope in these bleak times.

The darkness is there to help bring out the light in all of us. If we turn all the lights off in this room, and one person just held a candle, you would start to dissipate the darkness – banish the darkness. It just takes a little bit of light – that’s what we’re hoping for. If everybody can get that message, that’s how we have hope in the world. We’re looking for warriors who can bring hope back.

A WRINKLE IN TIME opens on March 9.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.