For a long time, Hollywood has relished any opportunity to show female bonding. From Imitation of Life (both versions) to Terms of Endearment to Fried Green Tomatoes, stories about Generations of Women turn writers, directors, and viewers all warm and squishy inside. The more charmingly eccentric the females, the more liquid the innards.
directed by Griffin Dunne
starring Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman
now playing at Guild 45th, others
So it's highly possible that director Griffin Dunne's guts resemble tomato soup, thanks to his latest effort, Practical Magic, the saga of the Owens, a family of female witches. Based on Alice Hoffman's novel of the same name, the movie banishes men from the story by way of a curse by a pregnant and betrayed ancestor that ensures any man who falls in love with an Owen woman will die. Early on in the movie, that's what happens to the husband of unassuming Sally Owen (Sandra Bullock), and for most of the rest of the movie, the only other man who infringes on what is definitely chick territory is a psychopathic alcoholic named Jimmy, the boyfriend of Sally's reckless sister, Gillian (Nicole Kidman).
His spirit proves "too strong" to succumb to the Owen curse, and it'd be easy to read into this scenario an unpleasant anti-male slant (men are either weak or assholes), but that would be giving way too much credit to this film. The only slant Practical Magic has is a gentle slope toward getting Sally together with the nice policeman (Aidan Quinn) who's investigating Jimmy.
The decorative Bullock and Kidman (given long hair, bangs, and hippie sunglasses that make her the spitting image of Meg Ryan in The Doors) manage to be engaging in a what-will-they-wear-next? kind of way; Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing, who play the sisters' guardian aunts, are charming as always. Using the San Juan Islands to stand in for a New England seaside town, director of photography Andrew Dunn serves up beautiful moonlit shots and lovely, sun-bleached daytime scenes. Likewise, despite its darker plot elements, the movie depicts magic in a gentle, new-age light, one step away from mantras, crystals, and aromatherapy; it's The Witches of Eastwick Make an American Quilt.
Ultimately, the film is too hollow and hokey to relay the enchantment of the everyday that Hoffman's light novels often evoke. Falling far short of this mark, Practical Magic barely passes as an innocuous way to spend a Saturday afternoon with your mom.