BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (2013)
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson
MPAA Rating: (for violence, scary images and some sexual material)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 2/14/13
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 13, 2013
For a moment, let us ignore the supernatural elements of Beautiful Creatures and instead concentrate on the movie's central adolescent romance. It concerns two outsiders. The boy keeps to himself. He's accepted enough that everyone knows his name and at least one of the popular girls at school felt inclined to date him, but he'd much rather not spend his time seeking the approval of most of these teenagers, let alone the girl, whom he unceremoniously dumped before summer break (She doesn't get the hint and asserts that she did the dumping). He spends his days with his face crammed into any book that the school district has banned and knows that Charles Bukowski is a "god."
The girl is an outsider; she has moved into town to live with her uncle, whom the entire town only knows as the man who never leaves his plantation house on the outskirts of town. It's clear from the start that the girl—with her curly raven locks covering her face and her not-so-trendy wardrobe—will never fit in at school, and it's equally obvious that she, like the boy, doesn't care.
Theirs is an awkward courtship, and in that respect, it's just right. Neither one particularly knows how to express whatever it is he or she is feeling. He, being accustomed to looking at his peers in a cynical way, bumbles his way through conversations with her; she, having been labeled an outcast immediately upon her arrival and suspecting everyone, responds to his attempts at earnestness with defensive sarcasm. The relationship is an endearing one—enough so to at least carry us through the initial revelations and developments of the movie's actual plot—but more importantly, it gives a sense that their romance will live or die on its own merits.
The boy is Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who has lived his entire life in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina—most of it with an eye toward leaving. His father is an unseen recluse who has never left his bedroom since the death of Ethan's mother some years prior, and their housekeeper Amma (Viola Davis) has essentially raised Ethan.
The girl is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). Her first day of school is filled with accusations that she's a witch, and later, the evidence is against Lena when the windows of her classroom explode after some taunting.
The fact that Ethan's religiously zealous classmates are right about Lena is of very little concern to him; in fact, it might make her more appealing to the rebellious Ethan (He's under the enchantment of her "seductive quirkiness," as one character quite aptly describes his feeling—and the entire subgenre of supernatural romances aimed at young adults, really). Then again, the fact that the two have been having strange dreams about each other before they even meet suggests something to their bond beyond hormones and social stature.
Lena is indeed something of a witch. In this mythology, she and others like her are dubbed "casters," as in they have the ability to cast spells. Her uncle Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) has taken Lena in to try to influence her to turn to become a "light" caster when she turns 16. Her mother (Emma Thompson, hamming it up like nobody's business), in the guise of the town's most outspoken evangelical (some clever subversion, that), wants her to turn "dark" in order to define a new generation of caster law or something of the like because her birthday falls on some important astrological event. Male casters have the ability to change from light to dark on a whim, while females have their moral roles thrust upon them by their nature and are never able to shift.
Casual sexism aside, the movie loses a lot of its appeal once the gears of the plot start in motion and the fate of Ethan and Lena becomes entangled in a preternatural power struggle. Writer/director Richard LaGravenese (adapting the first book in a series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl) tries to keep the central characters in focus, but the business of magic and curses overpowers them. Take the holiday dinner in which Ethan becomes the hypnotized prisoner of Lena's cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum). It's a riff on the old scenario of the discomfort of a boyfriend meeting his girlfriend's family, but it turns into a showcase for the cousins to fight over Ethan by spinning the room. A long section of the movie is devoted to Lena paging through an ancient book in order to uncover the secrets of a curse that could put her and Ethan in jeopardy.There are a few moments in Beautiful Creatures that successfully give young love a magical quality, such as when a passionate kiss sets aflame the sign the lovers are pressed against or when Lena gives Ethan the gift of snow on a sunny day, but their relationship, burdened by so many external conflicts and pressures, no longer feels like a linchpin to keep the movie grounded in some kind of reality.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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