“Hey let’s stop in and visit mama at the sanitarium. It’s on the way!”
Gloriously overwrought southern fried Romeo and Juliet witchery and small town cornpone unite in this odd little number. It’s Gothic cornpone at its campy finest and for me, it was pure fun. Nonsensical, illogical, silly sure but at no time was I bored or did I wish it would end faster.And what a cast – from English classically trained stage actors to two Oscar winners and a nominee, the finest character actors to angel faced young newcomers it’s all there in Alice Englert, Alden Ehrenreic, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale and Thomas Mann.
It begins in a tiny town high school where the status quo rules and people abide by the rules of the old south and all its classism and clique-ishness. A new girl has wandered into class, and she’s different, not like the pinky cream puffs with fists of steel like the other girls, but cocky, rebellious, in black. Lena (Englert) is mysterious, a loner, and immediately catches Ethan (Ehrenreic) off guard.
He’s bookish and different too but is a sweet, goodhearted kid who dreams of getting out of town. And Lena’s intriguing. He follows her and walks into her creaky old vine covered mansion to find the interior as swanky and minimalistic as any Manhattan penthouse. Cute and totally unnecessary touch!
Lena’s father (Jeremy Irons) warns him to stay away! But of course he doesn’t because this is witchcraft Romeo and Juliet. Lena is indeed a witch and about to find out whether she will be a good witch or a bad one, during her 16th birthday “claiming” ceremony.
Things are pretty intense and it’s all meant to be kept secret from the townsfolk. But the good citizens hold a town hall meeting to kick Lena out of school for being different and the subtext is that her entire family is witches and warlocks. Ethan’s best friend’s mother (Thompson) is a raving right wing lunatic who later reveals her true colors.
Ethan’s substitute mom (Davis) and local librarian seems to know more than she’s letting on about this tiny town and even provides a religious philosophy angle to the proceedings. Unexpected pure gold! And Lena’s evil cousin (Rossum) is back in town and raising hell.
There is so much going on here that there is no need to feel any boredom. Shock, astonishment, disbelief and hilarity factor in and the need to judge harshly will arise. I resisted and found the whole exercise just too much fun for words. Pure cheese and charm.
It’s honest to gosh glee is contagious and nicely obscures the films shortcomings, and it doesn’t hurt at all. Since when does a film have to enlighten, educate, move deeply or make sense?
There is room for an occasional barnstormer like Beautiful Creatures in all our lives and remember, its February, the land of the lull.
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Written by Richard LaGravenese
Directed by Richard LaGravenese, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (novel)
Opens: Feb 14