Bewitching Creatures a Magical Romantic Adventure
Beautiful Creatures is not the second coming of Twilight. Those expecting the same superficial romantic platitudes, the same winsomely tiring meanderings and the annoyingly sophomoric puppy love longings will need to look elsewhere to fulfill their wannabe tween girl longings. While both films are based on popular young adult supernatural novels, while each story is filled with magic, desire and copious amount of teenage angst, the reality is that the two film versions couldnít be more different, and for my part at least that is a very good thing indeed.
Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures © Warner Bros
As scripted and directed by Oscar nominee Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The Bridges of Madison County), this first entry in the hugely successful series of novels by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is shockingly entertaining, filled with interesting characters and nicely fleshed out scenarios that captured my full attention right from the start. Better, its central romance between a wide-eyed 17-year-old boy, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), and the mysterious not-quite-16 object of his affections Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is marvelously well realized, each character far more multidimensional than I anticipated beforehand.
The plot in many ways sounds like something out of a bad CW pitch meeting for a new series. Set in the deeply religious and extremely secluded township of Gatlin, South Carolina, Ethan is a High School Senior who what canít wait to escape what he sees as constraints holding him back both intellectually and emotionally. Heís given a major wakeup call when Lena arrives, and although many of his classmates urge him to avoid her like the plague heís drawn to the fellow teen in ways he canít quite comprehend.
One thing leads to another and soon the pair, much to the displeasure of her reclusive uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), enter into a romance, each finding solace in the arms of the other discovering a kind of comforting protection they didnít even realize they needed. But Lena has a secret. Sheís got supernatural powers, some might even call her a witch (although she prefers the term ĎCasterí), and on her sixteenth birthday sheís going to see her powers given over to either the Light or the Dark, her fear that the evil end of that spectrum will take her bordering an all-encompassing.
Throw in a seemingly all-knowing librarian Amma (Viola Davis) who has been helping to care for Ethan ever since his mother died in a mysterious fire a year earlier, the conservative Bible-thumping Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) who accuses Macon and his niece of being devil worshipers while hiding secrets of her own and the untimely arrival of Lenaís Dark Caster cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) who giddily revels in sin and the components for teen-fueled melodramatic soap opera are all in place. Yet somehow LaGravenese balances these elements with ease, making the pieces fit together in a way I canít say Iíve seen since Joss Whedon introduced Buffy to Angel. Itís fun and, even better, itís smart, one component fueling the other making the watching of the movie as a whole supremely enjoyable.
Itís not perfect, many of the supporting players, most notably Ethanís classmates (Thomas Mann, Zoey Deutch and Tiffany Boone) and the remaining members of the Duchannes/Ravenwood clan (played by all-star character actors like Margo Martindale, Eileen Atkins and Kyle Gallner) are given a decided short shrift, while the storm-filled finale ends up being nothing more than a ton of bombast for little impact. The movie can also be a bit too cute at times, Richard Shermanís (Gods and Monsters) colorful production design a bit too obvious (in a Tim Burton-esque gothic over the top sort of way) for its own good every now and again.
But the central casting is so spot-on (Ehrenreich and Englert sparkle as the young lovers, Irons slurps up his big moments with an infectious grin, Davis could anchor this kind of stuff in her sleep, Rossum slinks through her scenes like a serpentine angel of chaos and Thompson just needs to be seen to be believed) and the main emotional threads so beautifully honest and authentic many of the filmís inherent shortcomings donít end up mattering near as much as they potentially could have. Iíd forgotten how careful and caring LaGravenese could be as a screenwriter when he set his mind to it (the malodorous taste of P.S. I Love You still lingering in my mouth five-plus years after the fact), his handling of things a beguiling reminder I couldnít be happier about.
Beautiful Creatures isnít perfect, and there are certainly elements that could be improved upon if the film ends up generating future installments. But it gets far more right than it does the opposite achieving a poignant ebullience thatís positively bewitching. Ethan and Lenaís story is one I couldnít help but become enamored with, and hereís hoping box office receipts are strong enough we can watch their love affair continue to blossom as they and their familiesí respective adventures continue to develop.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ (out of 4)