Movie Review: ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and ‘Red Sparrow’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A look at this weekend’s “A Wrinkle in Time” and last weekend’s “Red Sparrow.

‘A Wrinkle in Time’

There’s a moment in the 2014 science-fiction film “Interstellar” where Anne Hathaway delivers a long speech about how love is the one thing in our universe that can transcend time and space. It’s meant to be heartfelt but instead comes across as clunky. Now, imagine that speech transformed into a two-hour movie. That’s essentially the experience of watching the recent adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time”.

Based on a beloved children’s novel of the same name, the movie sees troubled young Meg, her precocious brother Charles Wallace, and schoolmate crush, Calvin,  whisked away on a journey to the far reaches of the universe through the help of three cosmic beings named Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who. Played with humor and grace by Oprah Winfrey (a stroke of casting genius), Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, the Mrs.s are dedicated to helping Meg track down her father (Chris Pine); a NASA physicist whose been missing for four years. The journey finds the children hopping various planets through wormholes until they come upon a dark malevolent force, known as the It (no relation to Stephen King’s killer clown), threatening the farthest reaches of the universe.

Brought to life by acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”, “13th”), the film is a visual marvel. It’s so rare to see a blockbuster with this many vibrant colors and radiating with such childlike imagination. From the film’s vast world-building to the elaborate hair, makeup, and costumes of the Mrs.s, there’s hardly a frame that feels untouched by DuVernay’s warmth and creativity. Yet, as dazzling as the movie is to look at, it’s actual story leaves much to be desired.

Even at two hours, the children’s journey feels surprisingly rushed and at times clunky in how it hopes from location to location. There are themes of boundless love and finding confidence in one’s self; however, they’re about as on-the-nose as Hathaway’s speech mentioned earlier. “A Wrinkle in Time” is clearly meant to be a family picture but its need to hold the audience’s hand from moment to moment makes it unlikely to envelop anyone who isn’t a small child.

Rating: ★ ★ 1/2

‘Red Sparrow’

I largely admire Jennifer Lawrence’s willingness to tackle difficult roles on screen in the last year. Last fall, she starred in Darren Aronofsky’s polarizing bible-allegory “Mother!” and her latest, “Red Sparrow”, likely drives a similar rift through audiences. Lawrence is at her best when she’s allowed to be charismatic, fast-talking, and funny, such as in the three movies she made with David O’Russel. You watch those movies, well two of them at least, and think “there’s a great comedic performer ready to burst out.” Yet, Lawrence’s performance in “Red Sparrow” rests on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s chillier and more restrained than anything she’s previously done.

Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina whose days of dancing reach an end after a traumatic leg injury. With money tight and expense bills for her sick mother pilling up, Lawrence’s character, Dominika, gets lured by her slimy uncle, the head of Russian Intelligence, to extract information from an enemy of the state. However, when the plan backfires, and Dominika becomes witness to an assassination, she’s offered a choice; give herself over to the intelligence agency or take a bullet to the head. You can guess which one she chooses.

Dominika becomes part of the Sparrow program, taught by a scenery-chewing Charlotte Rampling, where students are taught to dehumanize their bodies and use sex as a tool for extracting information from others. You can almost imagine the pulpy fun someone like Paul Verhoeven would have with the concept but here it’s played far more serious. All this plot takes us about a third of the way into the movie. From there, it switches over to Budapest, where Dominika is tasked with seducing an American spy (Joel Edgerton), who happens to be in communication with a mole inside Russia.

Many will likely be turned off by the movie’s bleak tone, its brutal violence, and especially its depiction of institutional misogyny. Think less of the spy-novels of John le Carre than the books of Steig Larsson. David Fincher’s adaptation of Larson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, is the property I thought of the most why watching “Red Sparrow”. Both are hard “R-Rated” blockbusters whose central stories depict a world of powerful men brutalizing young women. Yet, Fincher found a way to keep that film moving at a brisk pace and weave just enough playful interaction between characters in order to not overwhelm us with darkness. “Red Sparrow” does none of that.

Lawrence herself is fine in the movie but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the role was mismatched for her talents as an actress. Before seeing the film, I listened to an interview with the young actress on the “Mark Maron Podcast”. The charisma and humor in her voice would be a stark contrast to her performance in the film. She’s an actress at her best when conveying a certain everyday charm. Even in something as dark as “Mother!”, she’s given room to emote, making a large part of that movie’s enjoyment simply seeing a movie star freak out by all the lunacy around them. In “Red Sparrow”, she feels restricted.

Rating: ★ ★ 1/2