Posted: 02/11/2001

 

Practical Magic

(1998)

by Del Harvey



I did not expect much from this film. Boy, was I wrong.


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Sandra Bullock, star of so many mediocre films bookending Practical Magic, shines as the sensitive sister to Nicole Kidman’s wild child in this story of witchcraft, love, mystery, and family values. In fact, this film bend the rules pretty darned well when it comes to what are considered “normal” family values. Which is surprising for our times, considering the dysfunctional family is practically holding it’s own or surpassing the average situation for most of American society.

The offspring of generations raised in a small New England village, Bullock and Kidman are the nieces of local spinsters Stockard Channing (Twilight, Grease) and Dianne Wiest (Radio Days, Parenthood, Tv’s Law & Order). It is generally known that the older gals are witches; hence, their young ladies must be witches, too. Bullock is a widower with two daughters in what must be a mirror of her own sibling situation with Kidman. Kidman, the wild one of the pair, has a passionate lover who is a mean-spirited gypsy. He puts a curse on the sisters. Tormented by her lover’s ghost, they go to their aunts for help, only to be told to clean up their own mess.

Bullock’s two daughters become excited when an Arizona cop (Aidan Quinn) shows up looking for Kidman’s dead lover. Sparks fly between Quinn and Bullock, and the film really takes off.

The film was directed by Griffin Dunne, known as much for his acting skills, but here he proves he’s ready for the bigs. Taken from a book of the same name by Alice Hoffman, she is given script credit, along with Robin Swicord. I have never read Ms. Hoffman, but this story was very well crafted, for the most part.

I liked Ms. Kidman in To Die For, and I think this may be her second best role, to date. Sandra Bullock, as mentioned earlier, returns to form here. Whatever she seems to be searching for in these other films, I hope she recognizes her strengths as they are portrayed here. She has the potential to become one of the best actresses of our time, if she makes the right choices. Quinn (Benny & Joon, This Is My Father) is steady as a rock, as always, and helps buoy Bullock’s character. Sparks fly between them—a natural coupling of talent and sexual energy.

Wiest and Channing can’t help but charm as the aunts, wizened witches who are there to help their loved ones when they need it. The entire supporting cast, which is basically the entire small town, exudes a spirited persona, most notably in the forms of Chloe Webb as the ditzy employee of Bullock’s specialty shop, and Mary Gross as one of the many disdainful local womenfolk.

Disappointments include music by Stevie Nicks at the end of the film. Gag me! What silly concept was this? “Oh, let’s use Nicks’ music—it’ll hook all the middle-aged women who believe in Wicca and angels”??? An example of another stupid Hollywood concept.

Despite a rather hokum ending, I found myself enjoying this film. It is undoubtedly a “feel-good, woman’s picture,” but this hetero male found a lot of enjoyment and truths in Practical Magic. Rent it for your boyfriend and watch him get into it. Or rent it when your girlfriend’s not around…I won’t tell.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago and is a veteran of Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and the Directors Guild of America.



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