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[This story contains spoilers for A Wrinkle in Time.]
For the uninitiated, the ads for Disney’s new fantasy blockbuster A Wrinkle in Time emphasize its A-list cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, Zach Galifianakis and Oprah Winfrey. But anyone familiar with the Madeleine L’Engle novel that serves as the source material knows that this story is all about a 13-year-old girl and her incredible, impossible journey through space and time to rescue her missing father. So, as has been the case with plenty of Disney’s live-action films over the years, this movie relies on the talents of its young, relatively unknown lead, Storm Reid. The gamble pays off, better than might have been expected.
Reid plays Meg Murry, an awkward, bespectacled young teen who struggles at school because of bullies as well as schoolyard gossip regarding her father (Pine), a trailblazing scientist who’s been mysteriously missing for years. One day, Meg is whisked away by a trio of supernatural figures (Witherspoon, Winfrey and Kaling) so that she, along with her adopted brother and a classmate, can jump — or “tesser” — through space and time to find her dad. The reasons Meg’s father went missing and the place he’s being held captive are all fantastical, but A Wrinkle in Time remains firmly rooted in pain and loss thanks largely to Reid’s nuanced, emotional performance.
No matter how wild the visuals get in A Wrinkle in Time, it’s to the credit of director Ava DuVernay and screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell that they never stray too far from the emotional underpinning of why Meg is willing to almost literally move heaven and Earth to bring her whole family back together. Reid is one of the film’s biggest assets overall; Meg’s arc from being crippled by self-doubt to embracing her faults and her dysfunctional family is wonderfully realized through her expressive and subtle work.
What makes A Wrinkle in Time perhaps a more frustrating book to adapt for the big screen is that the struggles L’Engle depicted are largely internal. The climax of the story (both in book and film form) features Meg facing off against a massive brain known as the IT, which represents the darkness of the universe. But no matter how odd or baffling the story gets — or how odd or baffling some of the choices in how the book has been adapted — Reid is at the center, a wrenching emotional core who serves as a necessary throughline.
In many ways, Reid’s toughest scene is the emotional crescendo of Wrinkle: After all sorts of wild tessers through space and time and encounters with fantasy worlds and creatures, Meg is able to find her father and have a tearful reunion with him. The basic emotional expectations of the scene may be predictable, but Reid imbues Meg’s literal and metaphorical embrace of her dad with a level of raw heartbreak and tearful happiness that’s unexpected in a big-budget blockbuster like this. Moments like that reunion are what stand out amid the grand, colorful, CGI-laden events of Wrinkle; so much of what makes the film work is its sincerely emotional presentation of a girl on the cusp of adulthood grappling with loss and confusion at what kind of person she wants to be.
A Wrinkle in Time is full of ideas, some of which are better realized than others, and is presented in a way that still marks the distinctive filmmaker behind the camera. But one of its most distinguished elements, and what makes so much of it work even though the whole might be fairly messy, is Reid’s empathic, melancholy performance. The story may have odd, whimsical flourishes at the edges, but if the actress playing Meg can’t sell the unique and quirky blend of excitement, terror, sadness and self-criticism, then A Wrinkle in Time would be dead in the water instantly. Luckily, even though the other child actors in the film aren’t quite to her level, Reid stands tall as the heroine.
Although Walt Disney Pictures and the types of films that the studio releases have changed radically during the past 80 years, they have a habit of kickstarting the careers of some very recognizable names. Even before she was in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Jodie Foster got her start in movies like Freaky Friday. Though she’s had a checkered personal life, Lindsay Lohan had some of her greatest success starring in Disney remakes like the 1998 version of The Parent Trap and (coincidentally) 2003’s Freaky Friday. Reid is still at the early stages of her career, but her work in A Wrinkle in Time suggests that, if it’s the path she wants to traverse, she might be the latest genuinely talented young star to come out of the House of Mouse.
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