Thursday 17 December 2020

Movie Review: Practical Magic (1998)

A romantic comedy with fantasy elements, Practical Magic wastes a good cast on frivolous content.

The Owens women come from a long line of witches, and one of their ancestors unleashed a curse dooming all her descendants to calamitous love lives. Sure enough, sisters Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) tragically lost their parents at a young age and were raised by aunts Frances and Bridget (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest).

Sally tries to counter the curse by leaving witchcraft behind, settling down and starting a family, while Gillian heads off in search of fun and casual relationships. Sally learns the hard way she cannot escape the curse and is soon dealing with heartache, while Gillian falls in with no-good boyfriend Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic). The sisters soon find themselves in a heap of trouble, and detective Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn) comes snooping.

An adaptation of the book by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic throws a tepid romance, childish magic tricks and rarely funny humour into a bland mix. Director Griffin Dunne has a magnificent cast at his disposal, Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock supported not only by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest but also Margo Martindale, a young Evan Rachel Wood and Chloe Webb. 

Some fun is achieved with the concept of harmless modern-day witches with a limited repertoire of tricks (blowing candles on and self-stirring tea cups are about the extent of it) trying to fit into a small town society, and the actresses try their best to salvage a base level of watchability, but they are ultimately stymied by a lame script devoid of wit and sparkle.

The plot meanders aimlessly, waving unconvincingly at themes of sisterhood, unwarranted ostracism, and the trade-off between domesticity and fun. Most of the wispy threads are summarily abandoned in favour of dabbling in crime, attempted screwball comedy, and a late-in-arriving romance badly in need of thawing. A nauseating let's-all-be-happy climax, complete with smoky special effects, can't come - and go - soon enough. 

Despite the preponderance of acting talent, Practical Magic can only conjure up feeble spells and disappears in a puff of irrelevance.

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