Each month, we at FilmHounds take a look at a director’s back catalogue and pick their lowest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes and ask ourselves – why? Why is it their least loved among critics? Regardless, we attempt to see the good in it.
This Month: Ava DuVernay’s A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018)
When Ava DuVernay made her third feature film Selma, she established herself as a voice to be reckoned with. Her take on the story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a rabble-rousing call to arms for the Black community, wrongfully snubbed at the Oscars and featuring a career+defining role for David Oyelowo. DuVernay could have rested, phoned it in with some easy, light stuff, but instead she brought us the brilliant documentary 13th and before her Emmy-winning miniseries When They See Us, she mixed it up and gave us the Disney-financed fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time.
A Wrinkle in Time, an adaptation of the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, might have gotten a tough time with the critics, prompting Brie Larson to state she doesn’t need to know why old, white men don’t like it – fair enough, Brie, but the film is significant. The film was a huge production; it was the first $100-million budget film helmed by a Black woman, it’s overall marketing budget was a staggering $250 million. Its box office gross was £131 million dollars, making it a box office bomb and yet, is that so bad?
Disney has a very rigid schedule that, Covid notwithstanding, it sticks to; they release a couple of Marvel films, a true-story, a family film, a Pixar and an animated musical almost every year. Disney follows this pattern religiously but in that, the family fantasy film has always been something of a thorn for the company. Previous examples of the genre, John Carter and Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, have failed to live up to expectation and seen their respective directors return to animation and sequels to make a quick buck.
DuVernay, a filmmaker who had so far worked with very modest budgets, was given a handsome budget and with it came freedom to let her vision go wild and it shows in the finished film. A Wrinkle In Time looks gorgeous; it’s bright and filled with incredible vistas of a fantasy world that DuVernay’s work has seldom been able to properly show, and it helps that the film has a near cartoon-like glee with it’s mechanics.
Clearly, the film is personal to DuVernay. Despite its hefty cost and lofty ambitions, it’s the story of a little girl, and importantly, a little girl of colour. Storm Reid leads the film and holds it as her own. It might be a film about children but it’s a film for everyone. There’s wonder in it, a belief that little girls, and especially those who are not white, can do whatever they want, that there is a change coming that will welcome them with open arms.
There is an element of the film that calls back to both Interstellar and Contact; a woman longing to be connected to her father and the idea that love transcends the boundaries of both space and time. This is a lofty idea for a film that is of course aimed for a child-friendly market and yet, DuVernay clearly doesn’t care. It’s also important to note that Reid’s character is biracial, her father is white and her mother is Black, and the cast itself is diverse throughout. It’s a fantasy world that reflects our very real world and the different faces we see everyday.
Perhaps most intriguingly the film deals in ideas about accepting yourself with imperfections. The film’s climax sees Reid’s Meg confronted with an idealised version of herself, tempting her to darkness. Meg decides to accept herself for who she is, a message to everyone that we are perfect because we are imperfect. It is this exact contradiction of an idea that is at the heart of A Wrinkle in Time.
This is a film that wants to deal in ideas of space and time, the concept of Tesseracts, and quantum entanglement, while it also wants to be a film aimed at children, but this shouldn’t be seen as a flaw of the film. After all, there are very dense and complicated narratives in children’s fiction. Avengers: Endgame did not become the highest grossing film in history for nothing and it’s exploration of parallel time frames, grief and the importance of maintaining a linear understanding of non-linear time still has people scratching their heads about it – and yet, it works for people.
It’s been said over and over that women directors are held to a higher standard than male directors – and it’s also fair to say that directors of colour are held to a similarly high standard, so a film by a Black woman is always going to be judged much more harshly than one by a white man. After all, DuVernay’s film was dragged across town as the worst film of the year, “winning” awards for it, despite the fact that there were much worse films about the year of its release.
The issue is that any film dealing in these big ideas are going to have a push back because ideas and emotion are still at odds with each other in the world of film. It’s no surprise that our first Reclaiming The Rotten was Interstellar, another film that looks at space, time and emotion in the same way that DuVernay’s film does. The belief that science and emotion should be separate is the issue, and ultimately the solution in A Wrinkle in Time, a film that offers children a look at big ideas, and says that emotion and being true to yourself is just as important. If that inspires even one person, especially little girls of colour, to look into quantum mechanics then the film won’t have been in vain.