Now that we’ve seen the sparkly end of the Twilight franchise (hopefully), every film studio and their dog is scrambling about trying to find the next YA phenomenon that will get them that tweeny Twilight money. So next up to the dollar-green plate is Beautiful Creatures, a Romeo and Juliet tale with a magical twist, that’s been specifically cooked up for the Twi-hard crowd. But this Southern fried mess left a bad taste in my mouth.
Our star-crossed lovers come in the form of 17-year old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) – who dreams of escaping his South Carolina, small town trappings as well as a mysterious dark haired beauty every night – and the clearly not 15-year old but let’s just go with it anyway Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) – the mysterious new girl in town who gets bullied for being a “devil worshipping witch” just because she lives with resident town boogeyman, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons).
Everybody says that the Ravenwoods are into some bad magic but Ethan is hearing none of that due to the fact that Lena bears a creepy strong resemblance to his dream lady.
Now if you don’t know where this story is going, then I’d like to congratulate you on successfully making it through the first day since your birth yesterday. Have a celebratory cupcake, as I explain for your benefit: Lena is a witch, or “caster” as she and her whole family of witches prefer, and spooky old Uncle Macon doesn’t want her having anything to do with “mortal” country boy Ethan. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.
Admittedly Beautiful Creatures doesn’t get off to a bad start, and as the wool gathering Ethan starts showing an increasing romantic interest in the enigmatic Lena, unexplained phenomenon that keep happening around her be damned, you almost get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, this will actually be decent. That opinion is reinforced by the fact that Richard LaGravenese, the guy who wrote The Fisher King and adapted The Bridges of Madison County and should therefore know his way around a romantic tale or two, directed and penned this adaptation of the first novel in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s book series. I mean it starts off decently and has even got Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson in it! What could go wrong, right? RIGHT?!
Lets kick off with the few meager ticks in the plus column. Newcomers Ehrenreich and Englert are clearly both talented young actors who do a decent job with their roles. If he can lay off the poor man’s Buster Keaton comedy act a bit, Ehrenreich has a bright future ahead adorning the wall of some hormonal teenage girl. And while it’s inevitable that Englert will face the Kristen Stewart comparisons, she certainly has nothing to worry about on that front. Then again, either of the two baked potatoes I had for supper last night could probably out-act ol’ Scowly McOneFace, but lets not take that away from Englert.
The problem is that while they do a decent enough job individually, when Ethan and Lena inevitably do hook up, there’s about as much sexual chemistry between them as there was between the aforementioned spuds on my plate last night.
Certainly not helping matters along at all is… well, I’m very hesitant to call it dialogue, per se. You see, nobody in this movie actually talks like a real life person. It’s more like a collection of cheesy Southern colloquialisms and metaphors that don’t just border on parody, they’ve already hopped the fence and are busy stealing parody’s jobs. Now having never read the original book, I can’t say if this was an affectation that survived the adaptation process or whether LaGravenese has just been watching way too much “Beverly Hillbillies” reruns, but based on how he adapted the rest of the book, my money is on the former.
To put it lightly, the script is overly long, convoluted bovine excrement. What begins as just a simple supernatural, forbidden teen romance, soon unravels spectacularly as it’s revealed that on Lena’s 16 birthday her caster powers and true nature will manifest, either as good or bad. This is something that only happens to female casters, like Lena’s now bad girl cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum). Now that doesn’t sound too bad until you also throw in Civil War curses involving Lena and Ethan’s ancestors, Lena’s presumed dead mother back as a spirit to possess bible bashing Mrs Lincoln (Emma Thompson) the mother of Ethan’s best friend, Lena’s crazy family showing up and going all Dark Shadows to celebrate the drabbest family holiday in the history of ever, etcetera, etcetera.
But the worst part is that peel back this twisting, turning, unnecessarily complex plot and you’ll find that underneath it all, the story is still very much following just about every cliche in the book, they’ve just dressed it up all frilly is all. But a turd covered in Hundreds and Thousands still smells like a turd.
Not even the usually reliable thespian skills of Irons or Thompson can save it, he doing an uncanny Foghorn Leghorn impersonation while she gets the rare opportunity to overact as two separate characters in the same film. Even Oscar winner Viola Davis dropping by as Ethan’s minder Amma doesn’t helps matters much. At least she proves that as a black lady acting in a movie set in the South, you’re not just restricted to playing white folks’ housekeepers, or mediums that communicate with spirits. No, you can play both!
In the end, I realize that I might not have been the target audience of this movie, but I honestly can’t tell you who that target audience actually is. By insisting on cramming in all this unnecessary flotsam, and with a plodding directing style, LaGravenese doesn’t just make it messy, he also makes it too long. And if I really felt the film’s 124 minute running time, you can be damn sure that that 15-year old girl who can’t live without checking BBM every 3 minutes and who would probably have overlooked some of the film’s other glaring faults in favour of some cute boy face sucking action, certainly will as well.
For all it’s use of magic, Beautiful Creatures is anything but.
Last Updated: February 22, 2013