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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

It may not be high art, but 'Practical Magic' is a load of fun

Witches are a popular subject for movies -- sometimes their cinematic spells work wonders, and sometimes their cauldrons fail to produce the right result.

"Practical Magic" starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock succeeds in creating the first, mixing a light, fun storyline with a healthy dose of humor to create a very entertaining, if maybe not excellent, holiday film.

Kidman and Bullock, in one of her best performances yet, are two sisters from a family of witches with an unfortunate love curse dating back many centuries: All men who are loved by members of the Owens family will die untimely deaths.

Bullock and Kidman are orphaned when this tragic event occurs and is followed by their the mother's love-sick death. They move in with their craft-practicing and eccentric aunts played by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest, who provide the film's comic relief.

The two sisters learn about the spell and react very differently: the free-spirited Kidman runs off with the first man she is attracted to, and the more-serious Bullock vows never to fall in love.

Bullock, however, does eventually marry and manages to make her life "normal" -- a departure from her witch-taunted youth. Unfortunately, but predictably, the spell takes effect and kills her husband after the couple has, you guessed it, two daughters with personalities very similar to her mother and aunt's.

The excitement begins when Kidman's obsessive boyfriend, played by Goran Visnjic, starts beating her and Bullock runs to the rescue. However, in the escape, they accidentally kill him.

In their panic they decide to use witchcraft to bring him back to life, but when he returns even more evil than before, they realize their mistake and kill him again.

Life returns to normal for awhile until an investigator comes to the Owens' to search for the boyfriend, who returns once again from the dead, this time on his own volition.

This movie, at times predictable, is at the same time fun, light and amazingly entertaining. The aunts are hilarious and the occult angle is not overdone.

"Practical Magic" is a film that anyone can go to and enjoy -- the child who enjoys the magic, the teenager who enjoys the stars and romance and the adult who feels young again by watching this incredibly light and fun film.

This universally attracting "funness" is attained because of its ability not to take itself too seriously while never lowering itself to a formulaic children's movie.

The essential elements -- dialogue, plot, acting -- are all there with necessary quality, with the acting clearly above par, which permits the movie to be both light and good. The rest of the movie's charm is generated through a general liveliness.

The movie whips through its plot with amazing speed -- never leaving the audience wishing for more, but never creating enough of a lull to lose the fun.

Griffin Dunne does a marvelous job directing the film in this comical and spirited way. He has greatly improved from his last film, "Addicted to Love" with Meg Ryan, which was once of the biggest let-downs of last year.

Bullock does an exceptional job, as do Wiest and Channing, of creating a light-hearted portrayal of small-town family life. Beneath all the witchcraft and magic exists a very basic and excellently demonstrated idea of people's desire to fit into their surroundings.

This subplot, while at times unrealistic, traces the town's fear and bitterness toward the Owens because of their belief in witchcraft, and in so doing, deals with modern-day prejudice.

This point loses emphasis in a badly designed scene involving today's town kids echoing those children of years past in taunts toward the young Owens sisters.

While all the actors perform very well in this film, I expected more from Kidman. The greatness of her acting in "To Die For" is absent, and in its place is a solid but uninspired performance.

In most shared scenes, Bullock steals the show with acting which reminds me of why she should be one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood.

At its core, this movie exemplifies the debate of whether movies need to push the cinematic envelope in order to be considered a quality film. Is cinema's goal to entertain or to be a visual, moving piece of art?

Clearly, the ideal is to have both, as in the likes of "Fargo" or "The Shawshank Redemption," but if presented with just fun, should you not go to see it?

"Practical Magic" may fall very short on the art end, but it does provide two hours of fun and entertainment, and that was clearly the makers' intent.

Save this movie for when you're in a good, light-hearted mood and enjoy -- it's not often a film simply this fun comes along.