By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — The young adult novel series that started with “Beautiful Creatures” has been waiting backstage eager to have its chance in front of the motion picture equivalent of footlights, which, of course, would be the bulb of a movie projector.
You may not have heard of the “Beautiful Creatures” books because the hype surrounding them has been less overwrought than the publicity that attended the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” novels. There are four “Beautiful Creatures” books, which means that there may well be five movies heading your way if Warner Brothers decides to split the final saga, “Beautiful Redemption,” into two films, which is Hollywood’s way of milking a cow that has lost its creative juice. The second and third entries are called “Beautiful Darkness” and “Beautiful Chaos.” The novels are written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
For the uninitiated, with the exception of the Harry Potter books, most of these cloying series efforts, such as “Twilight” and “Beautiful Creatures,” are aimed at girls between the ages of 10 and 14, and seem to be selling them a romantic bill of goods, not to mention delivering a warped sense of the realities of the actual world in which they live.
Why young females need vampires and warlocks and witches to provide them with a basic understanding of high school hierarchy is anyone’s guess. Are the young males at their schools that shallow and uninteresting? Does a guy have to be a wolf in Abercrombie & Fitch clothing to get a date? Granted, there are some boys who read these novels, but by and large they are aimed at girls. All of this may explain why science and math scores are down across the country.
Regarding “Beautiful Creatures,” here’s my memo to Warner Brothers. As Porky Pig said: “Th-th-th-that’s all folks.
The long and lumbering movie is not a slumbering giant waiting for a future sequel payoff. It’s just slumbering. We’re in a small southern town where Ethan, a sensitive high school student blessed with smoldering good looks, spends his time bemoaning his life and is eager to flee the narrow focus of the village idiots that populate the misty South Carolina landscape. Ethan is played by Alden Ehrenreich.
Things change when the niece of the richest and craziest man in Gatlin shows up. Her uncle, Macon Ravenwood (seriously), is played with lip-smacking, scenery-chewing relish by Jeremy Irons. The niece, whose name is Lena Duchannes, is played by Alice Englert, who is the real-life daughter of Jane Campion, a filmmaker of some acclaim from New Zealand. Campion has an Academy Award for writing “The Piano.”
Before you can say Tennessee Williams three times, Ethan is in love with Lena. In fact, her presence changes his life. He’s no longer a moody young fellow suffering from teenage angst. He’s Superboy with a side of grits. Not only is Lena exotic-looking, but there’s something mystical about her, and not just because she reads poetry, a discovery that appeals to Ethan.
Ethan is an intelligent lad, and the fact that Lena reads the poems of Charles Bukowski, who may be the greatest drunken poet of them all, has him imagining a lifetime of bliss together. It should be noted that a collection of Bukowski’s off-beat poetry is highlighted throughout the movie. Like product placement, only weirder. The novel’s title comes from a line in the poem “The Way It Is Now.” Bukowski writes: “I’ll tell you/I've lived with some gorgeous women/and I was so bewitched by those beautiful creatures that my eyebrows twitched.” For the record, this storyline would make Bukowski laugh uproariously.
Over the course of the meandering movie, Ethan and Lena will learn secrets about each other and their families. One secret makes you realize that perhaps Lena really did put a hex on Ethan. Her family is comprised of Casters, as in “casters of spells.” Now, as explained in the film, a Caster can be a good person or a bad person, choosing either option at whim, although they need to be wary of this. That’s because there are some truly nasty witches in the nooks and crannies of this tired old tale. One witch, Sarafine, is a genuine cuckoo. When she’s not witching about, she’s Mrs. Lincoln. No, not that one. She’s played by the over-the-top Emma Thompson, who gets hammier with each successive moment of screen time.
“Beautiful Creatures” is written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, who has done comedies and dramas, but never anything on this large a scale. He’s put together a film that made me feel as if I had been slogging through mud. Pretty young things do not a successful movie make. Their goony, lovestruck acting didn’t help either. When Gravenese goes for cheap thrills and awkward action, he’s in over his head. Witchcraft deserves better.Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.