Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday Thoughts: A Wrinkle in Time (review)

Happy Thursday!


I know I've set Tuesdays aside for character development and what-not, but the Editor-in-Chief at b-word.org shared an article that inspired me to finally write a review for Ava Duvernay's film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. (I just learned there was a 2003 TV adaptation. I'd love to see how they interpreted the book.)

Here is the article in question from Indiewire.


And the pivotal quote from Brie Larson:

“I do not need a 70-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about ‘[A] Wrinkle in Time.’ It wasn’t made for him. I want to know what it meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.”

The quote struck a cord  with me because as this movie came out, I heard there had been negative buzz about it. I also saw a lot of people who had read the book were disappointed in the adaptation. Some of things I've read in regards to the movie: too much cgi, a heavy-handed message, over-the-top/melodrama/cheesy.

But the majority of the reviews were also from white people.

Ava loved the book as a child, and she adapted a movie in memory of her late father. If you've read the book, that's understandable. You'll also notice, as most published works, the book features an all-white cast. As a black woman, Ava adapted the characters to be more diverse: a biracial Meg (or perhaps multiracial, depending on Gugu Mbatha-raw's racial makeup, so at the least), a biracial mother, and POC spirits by way of Oprah and Mindy Kaling.

With this infusion of color, there is immediately a new dynamic added onto the original story. So when Brie Larson stated the above, I definitely see where she is coming from and agree wholeheartedly, because typically, the first people who get their hands on these works for critique (or criticism) are older white men, and there's a 95% chance that they will be out of touch with the nuances of films like this. As for public critique, aside from the age difference, the same can still be said, and with the public critique comes a scrutiny typically reserved for films like this created by people of color. They will swear that's not true, but did anyone complain about the cgi, heavy-handedness, or melodrama of The Matrix? Or The Hobbit? Or Lord of the Rings? Or Guardians of the Galaxy? Or the last (awful) Jurassic Park? I heard nearly no one complain about the last Jurassic Park movie, and I still need to know why and why there is yet another movie, but that's a rant for another day.

With these complaints about A Wrinkle in Time, my main question above all others is: Did these people read the same book I did?

I read the book so I can go see the movie, and I was so worried. No offense, but this book was trash. As a writer, everything agents will tear a book apart for today is in this "beloved children's classic." Here's the main list of glaring issues:

  1. I've never read a more passive main character in my life. Meg is useless for the entire book. Charles Wallace and Calvin quite literally drag her everywhere, and most of the time she's whining about not wanting to do anything or not knowing what to do while the boys handle everything.
  2. Flowery prose. I'm sure it was big back in the day, but the amount of times I rolled my eyes reading this book, I can see why people say not to write like this today.
  3. I say this as a devout Christian: we were beat over the head with the Bible in this book, and it DID NOT FIT. I also say this as someone who loves The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The scriptures were so randomly thrown in, it felt like L'Engle was trying to convert each reader. Insistence does not a good story make, and Bible beating doesn't make a convert either.
  4. Deus ex machina: The secret is LOVE! The whole time, there is no indication of how Meg can defeat the It (also, did Stephen King read this book, too?) until the 11th hour when there are about 5 pages left in the book, and it was cheesy.
  5. Stranger Danger: Calvin is the most touchy-feely person in the history of touchy-feely people. The amount of times he grabbed Meg's hand or touched her or took charge of the situation was blech. Even in the movie, Calvin's pretty thirsty, but it's more humorous than gross, and he never touches Meg without her permission.
When I watched the movie, first off, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-raw? Yes, please. Make real babies. Secondly, Ava & company managed to fix all of the issues above while leaving the essence of the story in tact. Who could ask for more? Too much cgi, you say? Literally 98% of the story is set in other dimensions. Did you want them to learn how to tesser and film on set? Heavy-handed message you say? Um, did you read the book? Melodramatic you say? Um, DID YOU READ THE BOOK?

But anyway, let's look at those last two more closely, beginning with the melodrama. This story is told through the lenses (ha) of a teenaged girl. If you didn't want it to be dramatic, you've never met a teenaged girl, for one, and for two, perhaps this wasn't a movie you should've gone to see.

For the "heavy-handed" message, which was to love yourself no matter your flaws. Fight the darkness with light; fight hate with love: Meg is an awkward, frizzy-haired tween whose father has literally vanished off the face of the earth. Teachers have stopped believing in her; she is bullied daily for her father being crazy and because she shut down when he disappeared, and everyone talks about her behind her back. Thus, Meg has no self-confidence and trusts nothing and no one. That manifests itself whenever she tries to tesser, shown as a suffocating, solid wall of tribulation from which she always comes out of the other side in pain. Her brother Charles Wallace continues to show her love and believes in her no matter what everyone else says. I absolutely love that scene where he's yelling at her across the playground about how he loves her and how wonderful she is. It's embarrassing, but it's cute, and ultimately his love for Meg is what saves them both in the end (I also absolutely love that shot of her holding him where she says, "I'm coming for you." The love they have for each other!), and when Meg finally does open up to that love, she most gloriously tessers, as Charles Wallace says.

As Meg battles with the It in Camazotz (was there a reason for such a weird name?), she is pushed down by what the It calls a better version of herself: a fashionably dressed, straightened hair, "popular" girl. Google-Image Cosmo girl covers right now. Notice the trend? Despite Calvin's One Direction-level thirst (what did he say? "You don't know how wonderful you are, do you?" Something like that. BOY, go somewhere), I love that he keeps telling Meg, "I love your hair," even though when he first says it, she might as well have started fighting him, she got so upset. But girls who have such a low self-esteem or are made to have such a low self-esteem can't believe anything but the worst about themselves. While some magazines and other media have done a lot better to lift up women of color, we still have white women playing Asian characters and lighter-skinned or biracial women playing characters written as darker-skinned or black. Society more readily accepts a certain image, and while that's changing, it's slow-going.

Other moments that struck a deep recognizance with me:

The sibling dynamic of kids without a father worked so well for me. I don't think that is just a POC dynamic, but it might be for the most part, or at least felt more deeply or (though I hope not) experienced more frequently. When there is just one parent present, the siblings end up of having to look after each other, help raise each other, fill in the gaps, because despite the remaining parent's pain, they still have to make ends meet. It was very important to see that. It's what my family had to do, on multiple levels. My mom worked overnight for most of my childhood. So who do you think was making dinner and (though we often forgot to dry them) helping wash her work clothes while she slept? My sisters and me. So when Charles Wallace is awake making hot milk for everyone, even though he's 8 or 9, I was cooking eggs at 5. It wasn't as weird as it was supposed to seem, especially today (or back in the day, when parents weren't afraid to not supervise their children. I'm still alive. No house fires, either).

Finding Mr. Murry. Now, I cry at the drop of a hat. If you sat with me the first time I watched The Hunger Games, I cried for about 5 minutes when Rue died, and when Katniss was crying about it, I started crying again. But at the same time, I can't imagine how hard of a scene that was for people whose fathers have died. Mine is just not in the picture, but seeing this young girl of color get to hold her father after not knowing what had happened to him for 4 whole years was heart-wrenching. No matter how bitter we might feel about our non-existent fathers, at least for me, I felt that moment. The whole reason Meg was the way she was was because he was gone, and now she had found him. I loved that scene so much.

But also, Mr. Murry LEFT Charles Wallace! Now, trust me, if my kid were possessed, I might give up and save the other child too, but I still loved this moment because it showed that parents, no matter what pedestal we have them on, aren't perfect. He tessered without thinking about the consequences, and in 4 years, he didn't learn anything. It happens. We forgive them.

So to sum this up, I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars. I loved it, and I will be buying it and watching it frequently.

1 comment:

  1. I believe I read the book when I was a kid, but it didn't leave a lasting impression on me. Maybe I will enjoy the movie far more.
    And I didn't like the last Jurassic world either! Didn't like the characters and the tons of stupid mistakes made by the writers. So it's not just you.

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