US Release Date: 02-14-2013
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese
- Alden Ehrenreich, as
- Ethan Wate
- Alice Englert, as
- Lena Duchannes
- Jeremy Irons, as
- Macon Ravenwood
- Viola Davis, as
- Emmy Rossum, as
- Ridley Duchannes
- Thomas Mann, as
- Emma Thompson, as
- Mrs. Lincoln/Sarafine
- Eileen Atkins, as
- Margo Martindale, as
- Aunt Del
- Zoey Deutch, as
- Emily Asher
- Tiffany Boone, as
- Savannah Snow
- Rachel Brosnahan, as
- Genevieve Duchannes
- Kyle Gallner as
- Larkin Ravenwood
Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures.
Following the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, young adult, fantasy/horror stories have become all the rage. Every movie studio has been trying to find the next series to build a franchise around. Beautiful Creatures is the latest such popular book to get the big screen treatment.
In place of vampires and werewolves, this time around we have witches, although in this story they prefer the term 'casters', as in spellcasters. Lena Duchannes is a powerful young caster who moves to Gatlin, South Carolina just before her 16th birthday. In the caster world, every caster is chosen on the 16th birthday by the side of light or dark. Lena comes from a long line of female, dark casters and she sees little hope of escaping that destiny.
The story is narrated by Ethan Wate, a young native of Gatlin who dreams of escaping to New York City and becoming a writer when he's old enough. Naturally, he falls in love at first sight with Lena and after he learns about her upcoming birthday, he decides to make it his mission to help her see the light, so to speak.
Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich, who play the two leads, are fairly unknown, but they both bring charm to their parts. Ehrenreich, in particular, shows some charm and humor, even if his character is a bit of a cliche. They both show more personality than the overrated Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
While the leads are unknown, the supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces. Jeremy Irons plays Lena's rich, reclusive uncle, who has taken her into his home to protect her until she comes of age. Viola Davis plays a family friend of Ethan's, who has supernatural connections of her own. Of all the supporting cast though, it is Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum who steal the most scenes. Rossum plays Ridley, Lena's cousin, while Thompson plays the villainous Sarafine. These two both relish their evil powers and enjoy exercising and they both want Lena on their side.
Despite the talented cast and the somewhat intriguing premise, the movie never quite gels. The plot tends to meander and ramble at times. I'm sure some of the plot was included simply to please fans of the books and there's definitely room for some trimming. It starts interestingly enough, but the finale is quite brief and there's quite a bit of time in between the two.
Although it often takes itself a bit too seriously, the film works best when it presents its stranger elements with a bit a of tongue-in-cheek humor. It's when it gets too serious that it begins to drag a bit. It's not a comedy by any means, but when it recognizes the silliness of the situation, it's a better film.
Given its lukewarm reception and the timing of its release, a sequel may not be inevitable. Should one get made, I would happily go to see it. There's room for improvement, but fans of the genre should plenty to enjoy with this one.
Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures
I could not agree more with Scott about Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich. They both bring far more charm to their parts than the pathetic Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson ever did in the Twilight films.
Alice Englert plays Lena as a social outcast with tons of teen angst. It is however, just a mask hiding a girl who enjoys poetry and wants very much to just have a normal life. She comes off as tough but is actually sensitive and very lonely.
Alden Ehrenreich, who looks like Martin Hewitt in Endless Love (1981), plays a rare film character in that Ethan is a southern boy whose personality traits are not based on being a bigot or a football player. He is built like a jock but has an attraction to reading. One of his best moments is when a spell is cast on him to tell his own future, and it ain't pretty. He can fit in with the popular kids if he is willing to play by their rules but he prefers to be an outsider.
Beautiful Creatures works whenever the two are featured. Together, Ethan and Lena can be themselves, while in their homes both have responsibilities and hardships. Both look skeptically at their future. We understand why they are attracted to each other. When Lena tells Ethan about her powers, she explains, "My family is different." The clueless Ethan asks, "So...what? You're from Europe?" Unlike Bella and Edward, I actually hoped these two would find happiness together.
The supporting cast does what it can. Jeremy Irons has the perfect ominous voice. Emmy Rossum looks hot as hell pulling up in that red convertible wearing lingerie and even more so in the alley made up like Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946). Emma Thompson plays to the back row in the church scene where she yells at Irons, "God our creator will condemn you to hell fire, along with terrorists, atheists, homosexuals, democrats, liberals, socialist...green peacing...and all the other unnatural abominations!" As hard as they may try, the film loses most of its spark whenever the focus strays from Lena and Ethan.
Alden Ehrenreich in Beautiful Creatures.
Beautiful Creatures has its flaws but I enjoyed it far more than I did any of the Twilight abominations. And the main reason I did is because of something Scott and Eric both already mentioned -namely Alden Ehrenreich and -to a slightly lesser extent- Alice Englert. As Ethan and Lena they make a sincere and compelling romantic screen couple.
As the mortal-half of the love affair, Ethan narrates the story and, despite being -as Scott wrote- a cliche, is the more fully rounded of the two characters. Like John Boy Walton (or just about any protagonist in a Pat Conroy novel) he's a sensitive southern boy dreaming of running away to the big city to become a writer. Lena doesn't really come into her own as a character until the last half of the movie. At any rate, I found myself emotionally invested in their fate as a couple far more than I ever expected to.
Emma Thompson hams it up and makes a great villain. She gets some of the best lines like, “If mankind were to disappear from the earth, name a species that would miss them.” and “Love is a game invented by mortal men for women to play with instead of with power.” Jeremy Irons and Viola Davis both bring gravitas to their roles.
The special effects are decent. Director Richard LaGravenese (who also adapted the screenplay) wanted to minimize the use of CGI green screen. The battle between Lena and Ridley that takes place at the holiday dinner table was shot on a special rotating set. The actors sat in chairs bolted to the floor while the table spun in one direction and the floor in the opposite direction.
Now that Alden Ehrenreich's star has taken off Beautiful Creatures just might be remembered simply as one of his first leading roles in a major Hollywood feature. With his upcoming role as a young Han Solo his stardom seems assured. In his young career he's already been directed by the likes of Francis Ford Coppola (Tetro (2009) and Twixt (2011)), Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine 2013) and the Coen brothers (Hail, Caesar! (2016). My expectations for his career are high.
At this point it doesn't look likely that the second book in the Beautiful Creatures series of young adult novels will ever be made into a movie. I actually think that's a good thing. As a stand alone film, I predict Beautiful Creatures will one day be considered a cult classic.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. (2013)