Luvvies launch a pantomime … Eileen Atkins, Alice Englert and Jeremy Irons star in a film that tells a tale of witches casting spells in South Carolina, with a hint of humour and a teenage love story to drive the plot.
- Beautiful Creatures
- Comedy-Drama, Horror, Fantasy
- Running time
- 124 min
- Richard LaGravenese
- Screen writer
- Richard LaGravenese
- Alice Englert, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Alden Ehrenreich
- OFLC rating
Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese
Rated M, 124 minutes
Reviewer's rating: 3 out of 5 stars
USED to be that all you had to worry about in the American south were rednecks, racists and sheriffs who had eaten too much fried chicken. Since the novels by Anne Rice and TV shows such as True Blood, vampires have overrun our screens, both small and large. The undead have become the unwelcome, so it is a relief to note Beautiful Creatures has no neck-biters or blood-drinkers. It has witches, or as they prefer to be called, casters (as in spells, I presume).
The film is aimed at the same audience that embraced the Twilight movies, but it has more humour. That can be a blessing or a curse, if you'll pardon the expression, because part of the intensity of the Twilight series came from the seriousness of the relationship between the pretty young things. If there are too many jokes, romance may suffer. (In this case, Romeo and Juliet weather that storm).
On the other hand, humour adds to the sense of complexity, the levels on which an audience can choose to travel in a film. In Beautiful Creatures, based on a novel for young adults by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, this puts an upper storey on a film that might otherwise have taken place simply on the ground floor.
The humour is the best thing about the movie, followed by the sensitive performances of the two young leads. Everything else is a mess, probably because it has been driven by dark forces. I do not mean witches, I mean marketing executives and unimaginative producers intent on capturing a slice of the Twilight market. I don't know if this cynicism comes from the book, but I don't think it extends to the writer and director, Richard LaGravenese, who approaches his task with intelligence. The fact that he is applying his considerable talent to films such as this could be seen as depressing, but that's his choice. He wrote the scripts for The Fisher King, The Bridges of Madison County, Beloved and Water for Elephants, and he was both writer and director for P.S. I Love You and Freedom Writers. This shift into romantic teenage mysticism suggests how much the industry has changed in recent years. Don't get me started.
It's probably fair to say his presence lifts the emotional credibility of the film. That credibility is then trounced by the casting of some big-name British actors, who treat the film like pantomime. At least the American actors, young and inexperienced though they be, do not look down their noses at this material. I am assuming someone thought English actors would add a certain otherness to the casting of the immortals - that or they got a tax credit from the Isle of Wight.
In Gatlin, South Carolina, a young man entering junior high finds himself attracted to a pale new girl in school. Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) cannot wait to escape this God-fearing, narrow-minded Civil War re-enacting, book-banning Hicksville, especially since the death of his mother. Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) just wishes to be left alone until her 16th birthday. He reads Vonnegut; she likes Bukowski. They're made for each other.
Lena's family founded the town, but they're not popular. The other children taunt her for being the niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a man who dresses in a full-length silk coat, embroidered with disdain. Irons dusts off a perfectly horrible Southern accent, but he is not alone. Emma Thompson plays Mrs Lincoln, mother of Ethan's best friend. She appears to be the chief book-burner and religious maniac, but appearances may be deceiving. Eileen Atkins plays ''gramma'' Duchannes, with pink hair and pursed lips. What was this, a job lot?
The problem is tone. LaGravenese lets the English have their heads, while the young Americans moon and kiss and frown like they mean it. Adding a layer of special effects, with whirling tables and rooms that redecorate themselves, makes it all seem derivative and silly. That's a pity because the script has something to say about being young and in love. That purity of purpose had some belief behind it, once.