The Good: Moments of humor, More character than I anticipated
The Bad: Predictable, Doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. No great acting.
The Basics: A film lamed by inconsistencies in simply what it is.
Any time I sit down to write a review and my two first choices for review title are "Nothing to Write Home About" and "Not As Bad As I Anticipated," then I know I'm in a bind. Practical Magic fell into that category. It's the ultimate average film. Nothing extraordinary is put on the screen, nothing terribly below average creeps in. It's an average film. This was another review that my recommendation came down to the question. Sometimes, I think we reviewers forget what the question at the bottom is. "Would you recommend this to a friend?" Well, I know one of my friends who would be offended by the way witches are portrayed in this film and the rest, well, I don't think they'd much like it.
So, let's begin there, shall we? Practical Magic is the story of two sisters who are witches who have tried to escape their backgrounds. Gillian decided to do this by basically driving west and disappearing for years to be, well, basically a slut in California. Okay, I used "basically" way too much in that last sentence. Sorry. I'll do better in the next one. The main focus of the story seems to be Sally who stayed in the same town as the aunts who raised her and her sister. She marries a man who is perfect for her, has two wonderful children and then he's killed. Bummer. At this point, Gillian decides to return to the sister (and aunts) she abandoned for emotional support. Unfortunately, she brings a creepy guy with her who the sisters end up killing. Twice.
First of all, I'm sick of contrived plots. I honestly am. In this case, the first time Jimmy dies, Sally does the smart thing I'm always waiting to see in films; she says "Let's go to the police." At which point, Gillian says what the reckless person in films always says, "No, we can't." And, of course, previously-law abiding Sally agrees. Of course. At least Detective Frank Bumstead in Dark City (reviewed here!) addresses this when John Murdock flees. Here it's just aggravating to watch. I mean, it's physically difficult for anyone over twenty to watch this scene and say anything other than, "Oh come on!" Usually, we don't say that. Here, it's impossible to not sit up and say exactly that.
So, naturally, the sisters decide to reanimate the corpse, because, if you're not going to the police, you might as well raise the dead to clear your name. Of course, this backfires and Jimmy ends up dead again. Unfortunately, it leads to two other extensions of the plot which make this twenty minute concept into a 103 minute movie. The first is a police officer comes and ends up investigating Jimmy's disappearance. It's funny because, the moment he steps into the film the reaction I had was, "Well, isn't that convenient." This leads to Sally's next attempt at love, this time sans help of meddling aunts. The other scene is the Gillian exorcism as she ends up somewhat possessed by Jimmy. This, in turn, leads to the culminating scene in which Nicole Kidman is seen sweeping. Yup, she uses a broom and does some manual labor. That might be one of the few reasons to watch the film.
The true disappointment is seeing talented actors go to waste. I'm not talking Sandra Bullock (see my other reviews of films she's done for her nickname in my pantheon) or Nicole Kidman (who I've yet to see do anything in acting that convinced me of anything, though I must say her sheet scene in Batman Forever (reviewed here!) was almost enough to recommend that film). I'm talking Stockard Channing who does an excellent job on The West Wing relegated to the unmemorable aunt role. I'm talking Evan Rachel Wood who continues to surprise me weekly on Once And Again (season two reviewed here!) playing one of Sally's daughters; recognizable, but sadly a non-entity. Perhaps the most outstanding acting to be done in the entire work is by Mark Feurstein. He plays a doting, happy father and husband quite well. I was genuinely sad to see him leave the film so early.
So as I write this, I find myself liking the film less, or at least sounding like I do. Perhaps it's Sandra Bullock's impossibly neat and straight hair or Nicole Kidman's annoying midriff displayed throughout the film. The truth is, I laughed a couple of times. And more than that, I was surprised by the way Sally's character was actually developed. She was empathetic. She had very real desires and thoughts. Too bad she ended up in this particular film.
The film suffers from not being too comedic and not being dramatic, yet trying to span both. It fails. The film suffers from a critic who has seen this before and suggests that you have, too. Ultimately, an unmemorable film with nothing superlative; not even its faults.
For other films featuring Sandra Bullock, please check out:
The Blind Side
Forces Of Nature
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.