Dabbling is dangerous. Sally and Gillian Owens, played charmingly by
Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, were trained as witches when they were
young, but they've never been serious practitioners. When their lovers
start dying on them, they turn to the book of magic for help with
Director Griffin Dunne's PRACTICAL MAGIC, which isn't as whimsical as
the material warrants, starts during the time of the Salem witch trials
as an Owens woman is being hung. She escapes that ordeal, but then her
lover abandons her while she is carrying his child. In retaliation, she
puts a curse on any man who ever dares to love an Owens woman again, and
it works forever after.
The film, which has a long series of missed opportunities, starts slowly
and has trouble building any sustainable momentum. When Dunne brings in
a few significant doses of the supernatural in the last part, the movie
finally begins to find its legs.
Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing play Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances, the
quirky relatives who raised Sally and Gillian. The parts of the aunts
are the least well developed in the generally unpolished script by Robin
Swicord, based on Alice Hoffman's novel.
Sally and Gillian are as different as sisters can be while still bound
by love and witchcraft. Sally is happily domestic. She lives on a
picture-book island and has a handsome husband and two delightful girls.
Gillian, in contrast, has a string of lovers and lives life totally on
the wild side. She describes her current and abusive boyfriend as a
Aidan Quinn steals the picture as an out of state detective
investigating some mysterious activities. His likable character
provides a good-hearted spark that enlivens the film's second half. A
romantic angle with him and one of the sisters is less satisfying. As
in the rest of the movie, the director sets up the romance but keeps
pulling it back, never quite letting it ignite as it should.
The story works best when it unabashedly follows its offbeat roots. The
spoon in Sally's cup keeps on stirring, for example, whether her hand is
on the spoon or not. More of these cute little touches would have
helped, as would more of the film's black comedy aspects. As delivered,
the film moves in fits and spurts, never quite taking off, yet providing
some bits of solid entertainment along the way.
The movie does suggest some fascinating possibilities for the parent
calling chain at school. But the PTA would most certainly not approve.
PRACTICAL MAGIC runs 1:43. It is rated PG-13 for mild profanity,
violence and sensuality and would be fine for kids around 10 and up.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes