Practical Magic

PRACTICAL MAGIC, an offbeat, unsung charmer, is one of those movies whose plotline doesn’t fit securely within one genre but glides between several: fantasy, rom-com, family drama, thriller. Landing with a thud rather than a splash when it bowed in 1998, it got a bum rap from reviewers; worse, it failed to snare enough audience to pay for itself. Though reviewers were stifled by their narrowness and crowds missed out, justifiable cult status (the good kind) has accrued. Finding this bafflingly underrated escapism essay decades after the fact (after lazily confusing it with the dumb Hocus Pocus), we fell for the spell. *

A small town on the coast of Massachusetts hosts the Owens family, who for 300 years have endured the snubs from locals because the Owens ladies have a family trait: witchcraft. Though not practitioners on the Dark side, they themselves bear an intergenerational curse when it comes to finding and keeping mates: men don’t live long. Loving sisters ‘Sally’ (Sandra Bullock) and ‘Gillian’ (Nicole Kidman) each have their own ways of dealing with the malady, as do their cheerfully eccentric aunts ‘Frances’ (Stockard Channing) and ‘Bridget’ (Dianne Wiest). Then two mysterious, wildly opposite guys enter the picture in the forms of the inquisitive ‘Gary Hallet’ (Aidan Quinn) and the unsavory ‘Jimmy Angelov’ (Goran Visnjic).

The script by Robin Swicord (The Perez Family), Akiva Goldsman (Cinderella Man) and Adam Brooks was based on Alice Hoffman’s novel (she approved of how it was handled), and Griffin Dunne (After Hours) directed with style, shooting on location in Washington State on Whidbey Island. A strong suit is the lush cinematography by Andrew Dunn (L.A. Story, The Count Of Monte Cristo), and Alan Silvestri gives it a comfy score. Sealing the deal, the cast is terrific. The characters are so winning (with one obvious exception) and the visual candy so tasty that the tonal switches don’t feel jarring but instead make fanciful sense; just go with it.

With Evan Rachel Wood, Margo Martindale, Chloe Webb and Lucinda Jenney. 104 minutes.

 * Practical Magic, dissed by incurious critics, was cursed at the box office: costing $75,000,000, the gross was but $68,300,000 worldwide (44th in the States). The cult following goes beyond the wiccan community and weird 14-year-old girls. Worthy 1998 company that was also ignored by the public at the time includes A Simple Plan, Gods and Monsters, Hideous Kinky and The Imposters.

Among her host of offerings, the prolific Alice Hoffman has as of 2023 written one sequel (“The Book Of Magic”) and two prequels (“The Rules of Magic”, “Magic Lessons”).

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