Updated: Jul 5, 2019
by Derek May
YIN: A WRINKLE IN TIME
Though the title would ring a bell, I wasn’t terribly familiar with this work other than knowing they’d been trying unsuccessfully to develop a movie adaptation of the book for decades. With the imminent release,I finally read the book in both preparation and curiosity, and I realized quickly why I hadn’t known much about it before: I was definitely not its target audience. My girlfriend, however, adored the book as a kid, wholly elating to the awkward, sometimes-volatile girl coming of age while desperately trying to save her father. From my perspective, however, I found the writing stilted and the protagonist off-putting. So my enthusiasm for the film was tempered to say the least. However, I admit I was pleasantly surprised by Ava DuVernay’s take. After years of being dubbed “unadaptable,” the film manages to retain the essence of the story while tweaking and expanding it into a more universally relatable and less-caustic experience.
Both the script and the star-turning presentation by Storm Reid soften the edges around young Meg as she navigates the dual burdens of learning to accept herself and traveling the cosmos to save her stranded father—no easy tasks to balance. Though the book presents Meg in all her youthful angst, arguably to the point of coming across antagonistic and harsh,Reid delivers a masterful performance far beyond her years to capture that struggle and insecurity while imbuing her with a sympathetic nature with her natural delivery. While the book meant to present a reflection of the struggles of a young girl, I would argue that Reid and DuVernay present a much more universally relatable character. Anyone—male or female, young or old—I think can recognize the youthful awkwardness that leads to insecurity and follow the struggle to accept your faults as your strengths. DuVernay highlights this as a key theme and entry point into the story, in some cases even at the expense of smaller plot lines.
Several key sequences from the book are significantly altered or removed, for better or worse. The pacing of the film is much improved, setting the heroes off quickly and keeping the adventure steadily moving forward. Some changes, like the stuffy Central Central Intelligence building now becoming a crowded beach, become almost confusing in tone, but ultimately don’t detract from the narrative. The downplay of Charles Wallace’s and Calvin’s psychic abilities does lessen their characters to a degree: CW is more a tag along than a driving force, and Calvin is relegated to occasional emotional support and love interest. But this does serve to leave the focus onMeg and her father, both in her desire to find him and in her realization that he may not be as perfect as she’s made him out to be, helping to lead her along her journey of self-actualization.
The film itself is quite lavish in its grandeur and effects,even if DuVernay makes some unique and at times just plain baffling directorial choices. A plethora of oddly framed close-ups and unusual angles serve to give the movie a unique visual stamp, but also somewhat distracts from the experience. At first I thought she was creating a distinction between the tight, claustrophobic existence of our Earth with a more grandiose contrast of the other planets. But the angles and frames continued throughout. It neither ruins nor enhances the film, but does give it a sort of oddness, which perhaps is appropriate.
The CGI skews towards the youthful demographic of its intended audience, and that’s not a bad thing. It works perfectly to visually engage and excite the kids, and nothing is overly scary. The elevation of the themes of rising up against darkness, hate, and self-doubt might seem heavy handed to adults, but I think are just the right note for young viewers, and a worthy message. Along the way, the story definitely hits all its emotional beats, due in no small part to Reid’s captivating and often subtle reactions and Pine’s passionate performance (some of his best work). The three Mrs. all depart heavily from their origins, but retain their essences. Surprisingly, it’s Witherspoon, not Kaling, who provides the comic relief, while Winfrey commands the screen with authority and compassion. Young Deric McCabe gives an admirable turn in a difficult role, and will be one to watch in the future.
Overall, the film is faithful to the original story while expanding and elevating its themes and adventure to be more visually and emotionally resonant. While certain characters might have done with some extended development and some directorial risks might not have all paid off,it’s a fun, impactful, and enjoyable adventure in grand Disney tradition, with star-making performances and important themes of positivity and self-love. Whether a fan of the book or going in cold, I think this movie will be worth the price of admission.
YANG: A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE
This little comedy may have slipped past most people,released as a Netflix Original on the streaming platform. But for fans of raunchy, absurd comedy, it might be a little gem worth watching. The story follows Doug Kenney (played by Will Forte), one half of the duo who turned the Harvard Lampoon magazine of 1970’s into the powerhouse success of National Lampoon media.
We follow Doug’s trials and tribulations as he reinvigorates the magazine at Harvard and launches it into a national publication, radio program,and record-breaking movie label responsible for classics like Animal House and Caddyshack (to name but a few). Over the course of his journey we cross paths with numerous now-famous collaborators like Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and John Belushi, all excellently captures by their modern avatars, including a wonderfully meta turn by Joel McHale as Chase (Community fans will get that).
The comedy is choc-a-block of one-liners, zingers, and absurd bon mots, not only perfectly in keeping with the humor and tone it references, but making for a hilariously original laugher. If, that is, that sort of humor is to your liking. If not, it’s unceasing assault could become tiresome to say the least. And it’d be practically equally absurd to portray life in the comedy heyday of the 70’s and 80’s without a massive smattering of sex, drugs, and pool parties. You have been warned. But as a contrast, woven within this silliness is a dramatic and often sad exploration of Kenney’s internal demons. Struggling to be not just relevant, but revered and validated by both his parents and the world at large,Forte deftly layers many of the gags with a hidden pain. His journey from brilliant slacker toward his ultimate fate is competently realized, supported by director David Wain’s surprisingly deft pacing.
A giddy assortment of talented humorists from across the genre join in to provide a master-class in comedic timing. Half the fun is picking out the players as they drift in and out of Kenny’s life, and not all real-life personas are portrayed in a favorable light (Chase did a LOT of cocaine). But all serve to provide a fascinating insight into how NationalLampoon began and how it came to gift the world with some of the greatest comedies of all time. It’s a sad realization that it had to come at the expense of Kenny’s talent and brilliance, but as the movie ultimately suggests, Kenney would much prefer you not dwell on the sadness, but on the joy and laughter of this absurd world. So if curious about the Lampoon’s origins and in the mood for some R-rated silliness, sit down with a beer and some pie (preferably thrown into the face of the one you love), and check out this stupid movie.