The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

March 2, 2013

At the Movies: “Beautiful Creatures” an enchanting film

Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — Ever since the “Harry Potter” books arrived on the scene, we’ve been bombarded by books and movies that reveal a secret, supernatural world right alongside our own.  Some have been pretty good, like “Underworld” and some have been pretty lame, like “Twilight.” Richard LaGravenese’s “Beautiful Creatures” is one of the good ones.

Ethan is a high school student who longs to escape the tedium of his small Southern town where everyone fixates on its historic role in the Civil War.  Then he falls for the new girl, Lena.  But Lena has a secret and magical power that is growing, that she can’t control.  Is it a curse or a blessing?  And how will it impact Ethan? We find out on Lena’s birthday, and the town’s anniversary and re-enactment of the Battle of Honey Hill.

The cast has fun with their witty roles that run the gamut of archetypical Southern townspeople.  Alden Ehrenreich (“Stoker,” due out March 1) is boyishly charming, self-possessed, witty, and clumsily passionate as Ethan.  Alice Englert(“Ginger & Rosa”) is intriguingly sympathetic and attractive as Lena.  Both are utterly believable as teens falling in love.  Jeremy Irons (“The Words”) plays Lena’s eccentric millionaire uncle who lives like a hermit in an old vine-crusted plantation.  Viola Davis (“The Help”) portrays Amma, the town’s serious but sympathetic librarian who watches out for everyone.  Emmy Rossum (“The Phantom of the Opera”) is the bewitchingly seductive Ridley.  Thomas Mann (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”) plays impulse control challenged Link.  Emma Thompson (“Men in Black 3”) is the over-the-top intolerant Bible thumping witch Mrs. Lincoln that stirs up passions against Lena.  Pruitt Taylor Vince (“Butter”) is the one-eyed history teacher who relives the past; and Zoey Deutch (TV’s “Ringer”) and Tiffany Boone (“Detention”) play the snobbish and close-minded social elite of the high school.

Richard LaGravenese’s (“P.S. I Love You”) direction and screenplay (based on Kami Garcia’s novel) captures a unique world with mesmerizing special effects mixed with irreverent old Southcharm and gentility.  A duel between Lena and Ridley around the dinner table is dizzyingly magical; the casual desecration of the church chancel by Mrs. Lincoln is shockingly unnerving; and the open defiance of the school curriculum by the students on religious grounds is ironic and theatrical.  The town, the Honey Hill battlefield, the library, Ravenwood plantation, and even the road are all living, breathing characters in this story, coming to life under Mr. LaGravenese’s deft direction.

But what makes “Beautiful Creatures truly entertaining and worth watching is the juxtaposition of theological metaphors: free will versus destiny, faith versus fear, and sacrifice versus selfishness. In that sense, it is much more akin to “Harry Potter” than “Twilight;” it is a morality tale, not just a teenage romance.

I must say I was completely beguiled by “Beautiful Creatures.”  It is an enchanting tale that scores extra points because of its unique perspective, one that brings to life all that is idyllic and insufferable in a small town.


3.0 Stars

1 star — Avoid this boring mess of a movie at all costs. Reading the dictionary is more entertaining.

2 stars —  If you're in the right mood or if the subject matter appeals to you, you may like this film; or it is uneven, at times entertaining and believable and at other times sophomoric.  If you've got nothing else to do, it may be worth the price of admission (at least a matinee).

3 stars — This is a generally good movie that most people will enjoy. If you're looking for an entertaining couple of hours, spend it here and you won't be disappointed.

4 stars — Don't miss this film! I don't care if you have time or not, make the time, because this movie is terrific.