Rating:
a wrinkle in time poster

STEAM HEAT

Main Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey

Director: Ava DuVernay

Peter Dinklage and I continue to film my thoroughly modern update of The Pajama Game, now set in a Thai T-shirt factory.  We have seven more days of principal photography left, then another week for pick ups and re-shoots, then the footage all goes to the editing room and out emerges a masterpiece for Amazon Studios, sure to garner them astronomical ratings and making everyone forget his performance in Game of Thrones and rediscover him as a song and dance man. I will admit he tends to go flat on some of his top notes, but we can fix all that with auto tune in post-production.  Besides, people will really be tuning in for my famous song stylings and coloratura so if he is less than perfect, it will just make my performance stand out all the more.  I must say that my I’m Not at All in Love number that we filmed yesterday was positively overwhelming with the cadenzas that Madame Mimi, my vocal coach, helped me interpolate at the end.  I’m supposed to perform it with the female chorus, but in order to save on the budget, we had the Thai Lady Boys who’ve been doing most of the background work, dress in some adorable chiffon numbers that Mary Gee and Kim Dee, my genius costumers, were able to whip up.  We viewed the rushes last night and the results were stunning, although we may need to digitally retouch my makeup so as not to be out shown by the adorable little man playing Poopsie.

After the rushes, I sat down with Leah, head of my merchandising department to figure out how we can best monetize adjunct product lines to coincide with the release of the picture on streaming platforms.  We decided that as the film is taking place in a T-shirt factory and as we have all of these piles of prop T-shirts lying around, that we simply need to sew in tags marking them as official MNM garments as seen on film and individually number them as part of a limited series.  They’ll become immediate collectors’ items and everyone world wide will want one.  Leah is off in the morning to begin negotiations with Cable Home Shopping network regarding a new infomercial explaining how you too can have an official Vicki Lester MNM tee for only three low payments of $14.99.  The profits on the venture, by our calculations, will be enough to fund MNM enterprises for the next few years.   I will admit that the tee shirts as they are, while in attractive colors such as chartreuse, aubergine, and burnt umber, are a little plain.  We’ll figure out some sort of iron on decal that we can place tastefully in the pocket area to give them a bit more visual interest.  I’m thinking a fancy MNM monogram should do the trick.

The one major hitch in recent filming was all of the chiffon on the Lady Boys had a distinct tendency to wrinkle between takes, leading Mary and Kim to keep running onto the set with their steamers in order to tame the unruly fabric.  We kept the cameras rolling during these moments and we may be able to save even more money on the budget by using the footage for the Steam Heat number from Act II.  Anyway, when I finally got back to my hotel room and was able to relax, mix myself a dry martini, and put my feet up with a film, wrinkles were very much on my mind.  It was a good thing that I had the DVD of the recent film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, released by Disney last year to much fanfare and disappointing reviews and box office.  The children’s novel on which it was based, published by Madeline L’Engle in 1962, has become a childhood classic beloved by several generations and the task of adapting it to the screen was given to Ava DuVernay.  The African American director of Selma seems an unusual choice for a big budget science fiction epic, but she does a credible job of universalizing the story for a 21st century world. 

Ms. DuVernay, working from a screen adaptation by Jeff Stockwell and Jennifer Lee, conceives of the Murry family as biracial.  Dad (Chris Pine) and mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) have daughter Meg (Storm Reid).  As the family adopts a younger child Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), we learn that dad has mysteriously disappeared leaving mom to cope and a confused and grieving Meg, who, while bright, is having difficulties with school.  Charles Wallace, who is, to put it mildly, an unusual child, seems to have befriended three supernatural entities known as Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) who prove that dad’s ideas about traveling through space time are possible and soon Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s school friend Calvin (Levi Miller), are off to the planet Uriel, home of talking flower things, and ultimately to the planet Camazotz where a malevolent entity, known simply as It, has enslaved the residents in numbing conformity and whose tentacles are revealed to be the source of much of the unhappiness elsewhere.  Will Meg rescue her father?  Will the children come to respect each other and their differences?  Will there be a happy family reunion?  It’s a Disney production.  You figure it out.

There are some things I liked very much about A Wrinkle in Time.  The cross-cultural casting lifts the story out of the Sally, Dick, and Jane world of mid-century America and puts it squarely in the world as it is.  Every child can now see a character who looks like them in an epic fantasy adventure story.  Most of the cast acquit themselves relatively well.  The three ephemeral women, each very different from each other, bring silliness (Witherspoon), pathos (Kaling) and gravitas (Winfrey) to their portrayals making them seem very much not of our earth or behavior patterns.  The kids are fine, with young Mr. McCabe in particular finding the balance between creepy and cute that Charles Wallace needs to have to be believable.  There’s only one major casting mistake.  Zach Galifianakis shows up about half way through for a sequence in which he’s playing a bizarre entity known as The Happy Medium.  He seems to have wandered in from another film entirely and quite frankly the entire sequence could have been cut completely without harming the film.

DuVernay also has some interesting visual ideas.  Her work with the citizens of Camazotz, all living synchronous lives on an idyllic suburban cul de sac is both unsettling, and a telling political comment on idealized white culture.  She also does well with the wonders of the planet Uriel, full of flower creatures and an amazing transformation of Reese Witherspoon into a wondrous flying thing.  DuVernay fails, however, in terms of pacing and creating a sense of momentum and story.  Much ofA Wrinkle in Time feels disjointed and the set pieces do not hang together.  The denouement, when Meg must battle her fears to take on It and rescue her family, also fails to generate any real suspense or feeling.  It’s very much paint by numbers.  I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the direction, the screenplay, an inexperienced young actress, or a bit of all three.

Much was made at the time of DuVernay being the first female director of color to helm such a big budget production.  I’m glad she was given the opportunity, but I think her forte is more in character driven dramas than big budget epics and I hope that she is assigned material in the future more in line with her strengths.    In general, I’d say that A Wrinkle in Time is worth a look for some of its good moments but plan your bathroom break for the Happy Medium sequence and don’t worry if you fall asleep before the end as you won’t have missed much.

Ball to face.  Mean girl. Abandoned house. Bending reality. Gratuitous free fall. Invisible stairs. Abusive father. Incredible shrinking Oprah Winfrey.

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