Practical Magic

Practical Magic. Stargate Studios 1998.
Practical Magic. Stargate Studios 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I really like modern-day spellcaster stories. I even found a fondness for Teen Witch. So all that I really need to be interested in this movie is that there are modern-day witch sisters. Their conflict has something to do with a curse upon their love lives, which sets up a romantic comedy apparently, and I’m further intrigued. I also like Sandra Bullock in pretty much anything, so that’s a plus as well.

After watching the movie:

For generations, the Owens family has had varying supernatural gifts, and has been blamed for every bad thing that happens in their Massachusetts town ever since Maria Owens survived a hanging for witchcraft. Forsaken by her lover, Maria cast a spell on herself to protect herself from ever loving again, which became a curse inherited by her descendants that kills any man they truly love. Raised by their eccentric aunts in a town that whispers behind their backs, Sally rejects her supernatural powers, trying to be normal and accepted, while her sister Gillian runs away to the west coast to embrace her skills of seduction and persuasion. Sally marries a man and loses him to the curse, and Gilly lives with an exciting, sensual man who turns violent, and the sisters accidentally kill him in self defense. They try to resurrect him to avoid manslaughter charges and have to kill him again when he immediately resumes his abuse. Now there’s a police detective from Arizona asking the sisters questions about the disappearance of Gilly’s boyfriend, and a strange man lurking in the roses who isn’t quite there.

Maybe the reason why this feels like several different stories is because it came from a novel that had more room to tell them all. There’s only one contribution Sally’s doomed husband makes to the plot, and that’s to let the Aunts establish that resurrections are possible but not wise. Aside from that, that romance could have happened entirely off camera and we arrive at the present day with her being a single mother with redoubled efforts to be normal. Or montage it alongside Gilly’s wilder life getting good and going south. There are so many ways the story could have been told more evenly.

Even the theme is muted and uneven. There are scenes when they have a very strong sister relationship and other times when that isn’t important for long stretches, and the town’s acceptance of them varies, but in the end, it’s their bond as sisters and owning the magic before their peers that wins the day. It’s still a very powerful sequence, but I didn’t know the story was going to go anywhere near there until it got there because of the lack of focus defying any conventional plot expectations.

For a movie with a curse about falling in love with men, this doesn’t have many of them. I doubt it has many scenes where characters talk about a different topic though. That’s too bad, because it does have some great female relationship dynamics.

I’m not surprised there were a couple of attempts at tv pilots. There’s a lot of story threads here that could have been more effective if given enough time to develop on their own. I really wanted to like this more, but it never decided what it was, other than a mess of genres.

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