In January, the book club my older daughters are in read A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I was thrilled, as this book had a tremendous impact on me at my oldest daughter’s exact age. Our discussion of the book was fantastic. It was exciting to see a new generation of girls inspired by Meg and reveling in L’Engle’s writing. I was encouraged and energized by their insights, observations, and questions.
It was perfect timing, then, that only two months later the movie was coming out.
With great anticipation, the parents took the book club kids to see said movie last night. We had a wonderful time taking up one and half rows of the theater and settling in to experience this story together again, in an entirely new way.
And now, I have some thoughts! A lot of them.
I went into this movie with hopeful and high expectations, which, admittedly, is always questionable practice where book adaptations are involved. I came out of the movie with an overall feeling of disappointment. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I care about this particular story too much. Maybe I am too critical. Or maybe, just maybe, yet again, THEY MESSED UP!
I will go into as much detail as I can, without being spoilery, about the ways I think that happened. But in fairness, let me start with what I did like:
- The casting of Meg. Storm Reid did an excellent job portraying Meg’s angst, confusion, frustration, suspicion, hope, disappointment, strength, and loyalty. Her performance was believable, thoroughly engaging, and true to L’Engle’s character. I was also pleasantly surprised by how well the casting of Mr. and Mrs. Murray worked. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine did a great job capturing their dynamic.
- The diversity of the cast. Diverse representation in the fantasy/sci-fi genres has been sorely lacking, in print and in film. I was very pleased with Ava Duvernay’s decision to use such a diverse cast. This was particularly important in the casting of Meg. I love the fact that young black girls can go see a movie where they are represented as the smart, capable, beautiful heroine.
- The scenes between Meg and Mr. Murray. Predictably, these scenes had a personal effect on me, remembering my dad and our dynamic. Those moments the two of them had together were among the most poignant, heartfelt scenes of the movie. I was very nervous about the casting of Chris Pine as a father, but I have to say, he did an excellent job, particularly in one of the most important moments of the story. I cannot give much more detail, but, surprisingly, one of my favorite moments in the book, also happened to be my favorite moment in the movie!
- Mrs Whatsit’s opening line. While, arguably, too cheerfully delivered, it was an excellent homage to one of literature’s finest opening lines.
- The way tessering was visualized. That was cool looking. I always had a difficult time picturing what that would look like. I thought the way they choose to depict it did justice to the book.
- The IT. This was one of the very few changes that I thought actually worked well. Without giving anything away, let me just say, the movie version definitely portrayed the power and inescapableness of IT. I thought it was a good change.
- The depiction of the darkness. This was especially well done during the explanation of what the darkness is while visiting the Happy Medium (but don’t even get me started on that portrayal…).
- Sade’s new son “Flower of the Universe.” As a huge, long-time fan of Sade, I was very pleasantly surprised to hear her voice singing during the movie. Her new song is beautiful and fit perfectly.
Okay, *deep breath,* and now to the problems, at least as I see them:
- Mrs Who. As my favorite Mrs. from the books, I was very excited to see how she would be played by Mindy Kaling. Unfortunately, it was not good. As I have thought about it overnight, I do not think it was her acting of the character that bothered me so much as the writing for her character. Mrs. Who’s deep, thoughtful, prophetic insights were “updated” into, often one word, attempted, mic-drops. This is not who Mrs. Who is. Her character is not an exclamation point. Her quotes are meaningful, inspiring, and thought-provoking. “DANG” just does not quite get at that with any semblance of responsible justice to the book. I do not have a problem with using quotes from more current sources as a way to reach a broader audience, so long as those quotes are in the same vein of depth as the originals. Sadly, more often than not, this was not the case. At. All. Not to mention that it is one of the most enduring qualities of L’Engle’s writing, that she does not assume she needs to use easy-to-access, tweetable, shortened quotes to read a broad audience. She believed in challenging her readers, stretching them. And it worked. I just watched it happen in January, with a group of elementary school age kids.
- Mrs Whatsit. The re-writing of this character, and quite frankly, Resse Witherspoon’s portrayal of her, are a complete mystery to me, and not in a good way. How a supportive, kind, helpful, mysterious, measured character like L’Engle’s Mrs Whatsit can be re-worked into the silly, sarcastic, disingenuous character I saw last night, I will never know. It is very, very disappointing.
- Mrs Which. I actually really like Oprah’s performance as Mrs Which. I will say though, IIIIII waaaasssss waaiittttinngggg ttoooo heeaarrrr sooommeeeonnne ppppuuuulllll oooofff hhhheeerrr waayyy oofffff sssppppeeaaakkiinnnggg. But again, no.
- The changes. As someone who believes that books become beloved and well-known for the way the author told the story, I still cannot understand why screenplay adapters decide to change story details that could easily be translated into movie form. I understand that, for time’s sake, many parts of a story lay on the cutting room floor. What I am talking about are the changes to plot lines they are already choosing keep in the movie and are using CGI for, yet still change. It drives me insane every time and this time was no exception.
- Camazotz. This was a whole lot of nope, nope, nope-ity, NOPE! There were two parts that were excellently done and, not surprisingly, followed the book’s description almost verbatim, but the rest was just terrible. I do not know how to go into the details of how it was so terrible without giving away story lines, but suffice it to say, in my view, this could not have been done worse. Two of their experiences on Camazotz were, actually, directly opposite to how it should have been.
- What was left out. In my opinion, the “powers that be,” in the making of this movie, decided to leave out the most crucial part of the whole book. It’s just skipped over, not there at all, left completely out. I am sure that they would say it was for time’s sake, but I am guessing (and this may be my overally cynical side showing) that the actors playing the various Mrs were contracted for so many minutes “onscreen” and to accommodate the big names, they left a MAJOR part of the story, and my favorite character, out. I hope that is not true, but it does not make any sense otherwise. Let me just say this, I could have used A LOT less Uriel and A LOT more, or any really, of a certain Beast and her planet.
So there you have it, my, mostly unfiltered, thoughts.
Overall, if you haven’t read the book, it is a good movie. And, even if you have read the book, I would still say go see it. But then, immediately, go home and reread the book. It is, yet again, proven: the book is always better.