I will begin with saying there was no way I was going to miss this movie. I fell in love with the book as a twelve year old, connecting deeply with Meg, the first female character whose imperfections and beauty resonated with me, allowing me to learn who I was as a person. In addition, the message of love and embracing yourself in the book has been a foundation in my life. I was tentatively excited when I watched the initial trailers but was concerned how well the book would be executed onto the big screen. While the movie does take me back to my childhood and does a stunning job conveying a positive message, there were missed opportunities due to the changes from the novel.
Meg (Storm Reid) is the heart of the story. In the film, she and her little brother, genius Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) have been without their father, scientist Alex Murry (Chris Pine) when he disappeared four years previously having discovered a new way to travel through space, using the concept of a tesseract, a wrinkle in space and time. Meg struggles in school, unable to deal with the loss of her father while Charles Wallace has issues of his own due to his high intelligence and too much honesty.
One night, a stranger visits them, who calls herself Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon).
Mrs. Whatsit tells their mother, Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) that there is such a thing as a tesseract. The next day, Meg and Charles Wallace meet Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) a fellow student who becomes a new friend. Along the way, the trio meets Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The pair, along with Mrs. Whatsit, take the children on a journey to rescue Meg and Charles Wallace’s father from a terrible darkness, The It. While the three are helped from many, including the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis), eventually they must face the evil on their own and must find a way to save themselves along with Mr. Murry.
One of the most important aspects of the book is the fight between the light and the darkness by embracing who you are and becoming one with the universe. Love is another important theme, not incidentally one of the ways to combat darkness of the soul. One of the crucial ways in which the director, Ava DuVernay, helps to highlight that message is in her casting. While I remember Meg as a curly redhead in the book, I felt that re-imagining her as a biracial character helped to embrace the concept of openness and joy that the book highlights. There are people of all color in the film and this opens the story up to a wider group to be able to absorb the story’s message of loving oneself and loving each other with acceptance and without conditions.
You only have to look as far as Meg and the actress playing her to see how well the movie executes those concepts. Meg begins the film not liking who she is, lost without her father and unable to find herself or accept herself. But as the story continues, you see her begin to grow. She is smart and her abilities with math and physics shines, letting us see just how amazing she is. By the end of the film, she’s learned to accept not only herself, even with faults but those around her, even when they are less than perfect, even the grownups. While there are changes in the story that took it places I didn’t expect, in Meg, they truly got it right. She is empowering, not just to girls, although they need a hero like Meg, but universally, teaching all of us it’s okay to love yourself.
The effects are stunning. The world that is created is, while not what I pictured, managed to capture aspects of the books, like the beauty and light of the universe, in luminous and awe-inspiring ways. Not only do the effects enhance the world that the characters live in but also the science. Science is a big part of the books and the film. The tesseract, along with other effects, help viewers to understand the science involved. There are many scenes that spotlight math and physics but one of my favorites is when Meg uses math to figure out a way to get to her father. These little details make the world even more amazing.
The acting is phenomenal. Storm Reid is the perfect choice for Meg, portraying her character as stubborn, angry, hurting, suspicious, smart and loving. She captures all the key elements that made Meg such an important figure in my life and I know that she is going to be someone young women can look up to and embrace in a new generation. Oprah Winfrey is simply glorious, embodying Mrs. Which. I loved Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal of Mrs.Whatsit, equal amount of blunt and sarcastic but joyful in presentation. Mindy Kaling and Zach Galifianakis were restrained and sensitive in their performances, dramatically different than their usual humorous roles.
Young Deric McCabe was uncanny in his performance of Charles Wallace, everything that I hoped to see in his portrayal. I thought Levi Miller did an awesome job as Calvin as did both Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Alex and Kate Murry. Every performer captured the essence of the character.
There were missed opportunities from the book, changes that lessens some of the impact of the message as well as the characters. One of the first is in the development of the characters, Calvin and Mrs. Who. Both play crucial roles in the book and what is lacking in the film is why they are important to the story. As Charles Wallace says of Calvin, “He’s the diplomat.” Unfortunately, Calvin’s character gets little time to develop that strength and his purpose as a diplomat is never used. Mrs. Which is introduced, using her quotes but gets much less time to shine than Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which. We never really get to see why she is important to the story. Instead she is relegated to helping convey the children where they need to go.
There are pieces of Calvin’s backstory that are missing as well. While the film does give us some contrast to the Murrys, showing how not perfect he is, Meg does not get her moment to show him the compassion he shows her. This robs the story of the chance for a deeper impact. The character is much flatter, lessening his importance as Meg’s friend. Along with the cuts to him, there are also scenes he had with It that never are shown, making the darkness much less scary and losing some of the richness of the book.
I was also disappointed that a pair of key figures in the stories were missing. While I understand the constraints of budget and time, I was ultimately saddened by the loss of Meg’s twin brothers Sandy and Dennys. While they are not as important to this story, they do take on a more crucial role in later books. While I doubt there will be development of the other books, it does prevent those stories from getting to the big screen, if the characters are never introduced. This, along with some of the changes, seem done just to make changes instead of embracing the entire story, faults and all. One thing Madeline L’Engle never did was talk down in her writing but I feel there was a bit of telling the message rather than allowing the story to guide us to the message. I did enjoy the film as did my husband who, not having read the books, felt that the writers did convey the messages of love and hope, just not executed as well as it could have been.
Love is everything. I feel like that sums up the film and the ideas the writers wanted to share. If you love strong female characters and want a role model for daughters to emulate, I urge you to see this film. Even if you have boys, the universal idea of acceptance and love are ones everyone can embrace. Sadly, I think the story is lessened by the changes, not quite as complex, but I found that the characters and story are executed in a way my twelve year old self could not have articulated while the vivid re-imagining beautifully rendered the concept and the message of the book in a way I hadn’t envisioned when I was young.
Rating: 4 tesseracts out of 5.
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