Monday, February 11, 2013

Movie Review: Beautiful Creatures

Ever since last summer’s release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part II: Electric Boogalloo, there’s been a supernatural romance vacuum in the realm of Hollywood franchises. Much like how TV is still trying to achieve the “next Lost” (Sorry, but Revolution leaves much to be desired), cinema execs are chomping at the bit to find the next sappy YA adaptation to make buckets of money off the wallets of awkward teenagers and escapism-addicted middle aged women.

Cue Beautiful Creatures, the first in an assuredly planned franchise based on the Caster Chronicles book series. It centers on a boy, fancy that, in this case the athletic Ethan who is discontented to be the stereotypical jock and instead spends his free time devouring the banned writings of Rand, Vonnegut, and Salinger, sketching the female vision that haunts his dreams and dreaming of the day when he can finally say “adieu” to his small, southern, backwards town.

But then, a mysterious new girl named Lana arrives in town to stay with her uncle, the local rich, eccentric hermit and supposed devil worshiper. Lana sends ripples through the school and community, immediately catching Ethan’s eye. The two teens share a meet cute in the rain and proceed to fall head-over-17-year-old-heels in love with each other but of course, her family doesn’t approve, because Lana is a witch and obviously that sort of thing is forbidden.

Where the Twilight films creatively drown under the weight of their own nauseating self-seriousness, Beautiful Creatures manages to keep things light and playful. Supporting castmembers Emma Thompson and Emma Rosum gleefully vamp it up, chewing the scenery as a pair of evil “casters” – their term for magical folk – while Jeremy Irons provides the emotional moxie as the family patriarch and Lana’s guardian.

Much like how Twilight is a tale of vampire meets girl, Beautiful Creatures is a tale of boy meets witch. Creatures is not particularly good, but it is spared from being ultimately bad by two things: it’s deep-south setting and the winning charm of relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan.
I was well-prepared to despise Ethan from the moment his heavily-accented voice-over narration opens the film, but after a few glimpses of his wide, Cheshire grin and a few pinches of snappy, if less-than-inspired dialogue, he won me over.

In another rarity, he and Alice Englert, his partner in magical romance, actually present their characters as a believable pair of goofy, nerdy, teenage lovers. Compared to the photo-shopped perfection and age-stretching of the Twilight cast (and any other movie set in High School) Ethan and Lana actually come across as a reasonably authentic adolescent couple, even though lightning bolts occasionally shot out of Lana’s fingers.

Likewise, the film’s deep south setting is one of its greatest strengths, imbedding the film with a certain sense of mysterious cool. Much like other fictional southern works, like Skeleton Key or Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, the scenery and setting are used as though they were extra characters.

The generic townsfolk are dismissible and two-dimensional, bordering on caricature, with the exception of Viola Davis, who brings the soul as a family friend with a few secrets up her sleeve.
Ultimately, Beatiful Creatures is an adequately enjoyable, albeit blocky and unpolished, fantasy. It has just enough fun to keep things moving and to nearly make up for the laughably awful visual effects. After making it’s money in spades – as I assume it will – I wouldn’t be completely disinterested to see what happens next.

Grade: B-

*Beautiful Creatures opens wide in theaters on Feb. 14, 2013.

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