Film review: Practical Magic (1998), directed by Griffin Dunne
When Sally and Gillian Owens are children, they hear of a curse put on the Owens women by an ancestor who was accused of witchcraft a few hundred years ago. The curse says that no Owens woman can have her happily ever after, so to speak, because the man she loves will always be doomed to die.
As a result Sally wants to make sure she never falls in love, and creates a spell about the qualities her perfect man is to have. Qualities that are, of course, so random and ridiculous that there can never be a man like that – meaning she’ll never have to suffer the heartbreak of the curse.
As the years pass, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) have a blast growing up with their aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest), a couple of witches, in a big, old house. Independent Gillian goes off to do her own thing, playing the field, while Sally falls in love and gets married, and have two daughters with the threat of the curse constantly hanging over her head. Maybe the best idea is to shun magic completely.
And that’s about all I can say without giving away too many spoilers, sadly.
Also starring Aidan Quinn as officer Gary Hallet and Goran Visnjic as Jimmy Angelov, with Evan Rachel Wood and Alexandra Artrip as Sally’s daughters.
This is one of those films that I’ll watch and feel good about. It makes me want to go out in the garden, light a candle and draw a Circle. Witches, yay! And not witches in the Roald Dahl sense, but in the being nice and groovy, prepare herbal remedies type way. The subtle Magick practised in Paganism is of course not the blatant, superpower type magic portrayed on film. But still. It’s one of those films that makes me feel good about embracing the “witch” label.
While tackling some serious subjects, which I won’t go into for spoilerific reasons, it also manages to be lighthearted and fun. Bullock as the serious, responsible sister is great, as is Kidman as the devil-may-care, fun-loving sister. They make a good team when they work together – even if it means one having to clean up the other one’s mess.
Living in a small town where “witch!” is used as an insult is not easy, especially not when you’re a kid, so it’s kind of surprising how the family have stayed in the area for so long. Still, I love the two aunts. They’re the sort of aunts I’d love to have, but that tend to be confined to fiction. I hope I can be just like them when I grow older.
Anyway. It’s a good adventure, with humour, romance, a police officer (or FBI agent?) investigating a crime, and plenty of magic. Not suitable for the youngest audience, but should be okay for maybe 10-to-12-year-olds.
To those paranoid that kids will watch this (or read the Alice Hoffman novel on which it’s based) and want to become witches: While this bears more of a resemblance to real-life witchcraft than Harry Potter (all they have in common is using the word “witch”), anyone who decides to look into actual Paganism after this is likely to quickly get bored as soon as* they realise it’s more about tree-hugging and herbal teas than cursing and bringing people back from the dead. (*Within 10 minutes of reading explanations written by actual Pagans.)
This film is fantasy, pure and simple. Cute, entertaining fantasy with groovy witches, but fantasy nonetheless. If you can’t make that distinction between fact and fiction, and your faith is so frail anything will shake it, I pity you. This is just a film, and a delightful one at that.
5 out of 5 roses, and OMG, I want that house! (Although sadly, it’s about as real as the magic in the film, i.e. not at all. 😭)