Directed By: Richard LaGravenese
Written By: Richard LaGravenese (screenplay), Kami Carter & Margaret Stohl (novel)
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Emma Thompson
The month of February is not known for its blockbusters. After the month of December and award show season, the studios do their best to quietly release some of the movies that they expect will not perform well. One of the exceptions to that idea would be the Valentines’ Day weekend. They save some of their more romantic fare for the couples to make date movies out of. Most of the time, women will enjoy those films more than the men, but that may not necessarily be the case with Beautiful Creatures.
Our narrator throughout most of the film is the leading man, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich). Ethan has been plagued by a series of recurring dreams, which involve a mysterious beautiful young woman, though he never gets the chance to see her face. Coincidentally, when he returns to school for his junior year, there is a new face in his class. Her name is Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the niece of the town’s wealthy recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Lena quickly shows off her sharp wit, and Ethan can see that she’s no ordinary girl, but he doesn’t know just how right he is. Lena is a ‘Caster,’ a person who can magically affect the world around her.
Much to Lena’s surprise, however, the discovery of that fact doesn’t deter Ethan. He isn’t scared for very long. Not even when she tells him how on her upcoming sixteenth birthday, she’ll be claimed to be either a Light or a Dark caster against her own will, and her family history is cursed to produce only Dark casters. Ethan remains devoted to her. Like her uncle Macon, Ethan is convinced that the curse can be broken, and that Lena can choose to be a good person.
The romance between the two of them is what makes the film unique. While Ethan’s devotion and the idea of their predestined romance does smell a bit too much like female wish-fulfillment, it still feels credible. This kind of romance is what the Twilight franchise should have had. The relationship between Ethan and Lena isn’t unhealthy or dangerous. They genuinely come to love and care for the other, and the audience does get involved.
However, just like in that other supernatural teen romance, not everybody approves. Macon believes it’s unsafe for the two of them to be together, since Casters aren’t meant to love mortals. On the other side of the coin, Lena’s evil mother Sarafine (Emma Thompson), and cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) want to use Ethan to help them turn Lena into a Dark Caster like them.
The first act of the film is by far the strongest. The characters and the setting of the small town of Gatlin are set up very well, and it is done with a degree of fun and humor. The dialogue in particular is whip smart, and there are plenty of very funny lines at the beginning of the film. Several of them are some really good pokes at the townspeople, who are still funny despite largely being caricatures of Southern Baptists. There were even some moments that actually felt close to literary in the set-up. As the film progresses towards the second and third act, it starts to lose the same flavor of intelligence and humor and begins to feel more like some of the more commonplace Hollywood products.
I walked into this press screening not knowing that it was based on a novel, but it wasn’t hard to see that it was. Even if a few people hadn’t told me so in the auditorium, the movie’s narrative style would have. It’s clear that LaGravenese was trying to condense an entire novel, maybe even more than one, into a single ninety-minute feature. Some parts do work better than others, but the story holds up overall, even including a few inferior moments.
In conclusion, Beautiful Creatures is between a few extremes in the new sub-genre of paranormal romance. It’s more credible than Twilight, and I can actually see men enjoying this movie like I did. I don’t foresee the film excelling financially, but it can certainly be an entertaining film for younger couples. I appreciated its uniqueness and while I won’t be running to do so, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.