Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Directed by Richard LaGravanese.
2013. Rated PG-13, 124 minutes.
Alice Englert
Alden Ehrenreich
Emmy Rossum
Margo Martindale
Zoey Deutch
Tiffany Boone
Kyle Gallner

With vampire, werewolves, and zombies already taken care of in the inter-mortality relationship category, Beautiful Creatures takes on witches. The movie calls them “casters.” Our caster’s name is Lena (Englert). She’s just moved back to Gatlin, South Carolina, and in with her Uncle Macon (Irons). She’s a rather sullen sort, and a couple months shy of her all-important sixteenth birthday. Despite her best efforts to ward off everyone, Ethan (Ehrenreich) falls for her immediately after laying eyes on her. He manages to break down her defenses, but learns she’s got an awful lot on her mind. You see, on that birthday she has coming, she will discover her true nature and whether she’ll be claimed by the light or the dark. In other words, she’ll find out if she will be a good or wicked witch. Complicating things further, falling in love with a mere mortal is know to be an express ticket to the dark side.

As things roll along, we realize this is a good looking movie that desperately wants to say something, but has no idea what that actually is, let alone how to say it. Early on, it appears to argue for science over faith. Gradually, it floats over to the other position rather unconvincingly. It also wants to establish our two lovebirds as intellectuals, but fails that attempt, too. Both are avid readers. Ethan latches on to any novel he can get his hands on with a particular fondness for the work of Kurt Vonnegut. Lena read poetry, especially that of Charles Bukowski. Unfortunately, what they’re gleaming from these texts is unclear. They appear to be reading only as a means to avoid social interaction rather than an intrinsic passion for the written word. It comes off more as a marker of their being different than their classmates and a way for the filmmakers to pretend this film is somehow more intelligent than its contemporaries.

Other things in the narrative are brought up and unceremoniously dropped. Most noticeably, the conflict between our love birds and the popular kids in school never amounts to anything. Perhaps not so coincidentally, this is a major factor in the movie’s debate on religion. That whole thing, which was potentially more interesting than anything else going on, is similarly abandoned. It makes both things feel like they are there merely to pad out the run time.

Continuing the film’s overall messiness are a bunch of performances that are all over the map. As Lena Englert is okay, but unremarkable. Her leading man, Ehrenreich, is all “golly gee,” and very reminiscent of Lucas Black in Friday Night Lights. He is also more annoying than endearing. Unsurprisingly, the more experienced members of the cast fare better, for the most part. Viola Davis is her usually excellent self, bringing much needed depth and gravity to her walking stereotype of a character (the older black woman with supernatural abilities). The problem is she plays is so dead serious it seems she isn't fully aware what type of movie she’s in. On the other hand, Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum are perfect, hamming it up as our cackling wicked witches. The one real disappointment is the normally great Jeremy Irons. He seems to be worrying more about whether the studio’s check will clear than the fate of his character’s niece. This is most evident in the way his southern accent comes and goes.

This truly is a post-Twilight world. Movie monsters are being wussified and carrying on full-blown relationships with humans at an unprecedented rate. The Twilight movies themselves are not good, according to most adults, myself included. The films they inspire are generally of equal or lesser quality. Occasionally we get a gem like Warm Bodies, but more often than not, we get something like Beautiful Creatures. It is ambitious, pretty to look at, but overly derivative and utterly contrived. Most of its inspirations are easily visible on the screen. Even less discerning viewers will likely notice where it takes from The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and of course, Twilight. However, it does little more than throw those things out there. Transparently stealing from cinema’s past can work well provided the thief is also a skilled chef mixing the existing ingredients with those of his own creation. Quentin Tarantino has made a whole career of this. Here, all those elements are re-purposed enough to form the type of trite narrative the tween and teen girl viewers into this sort of thing might enjoy, but it fails to differentiate itself from most of the other faux-goth romances out there.

MY SCORE: 4/10

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