'Beautiful Creatures' Review: Romantic Teen Fantasy Conjures Little Magic
There will always be anxious teenagers who long to run away from their small towns in search of a better life.
Like Dawson in Dawson’s Creek and countless others before him, the main character in Beautiful Creatures dreams of leaving his inhospitable community behind. He looks down on the local theater that always misspells titles in the marquee—such as Finale Destination 6—and the small-minded locals whose lives are consumed by gossip and melodrama.
Alden Ehrenreich stars as idealistic dreamer Ethan Wate, a well-read student who recently lost his mother and whose father is emotionally-absent from his life. Aside from his best friend Link (Thomas Mann) and his ally Amma (Viola Davis), few people understand Ethan, including his intellectually-stunted ex-girlfriend.
But when a mysterious new girl named Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert)—the niece of town shut-in Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons)-- arrives in town, Ethan is immediately smitten while the rest of the community is undoubtedly suspicious. Ethan--who sees himself as an outsider--befriends her and the romantic relationship between the couple becomes fodder for much of the town gossip.
What follows in this teenage fantasy is a supernatural story of love, romance and mystery. Lena is a caster (a more proper name for a witch, we are told) who is about to find out if her powers will be claimed for the light (the good) or the dark (evil). As the story unfolds, viewers are offered a look inside the world of the supernatural as characters from both sides are presented.
The two young movie stars are surrounded by a formidable cast of grand actors who are stuck in unexciting bit parts that give them few opportunities to excel. Two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson plays the religious town matriarch who rejects outsiders while two-time Oscar nominee Davis is given an underwritten and strange role as a woman who knows more about the town’s supernatural past than she lets on. Irons, meanwhile, is given the thankless role of a modern-day Boo Radley.
The concept of the story offers more promise than what is delivered onscreen. Instead of the engaging story presented in the book, the film offers viewers a superficial look at the relationships and the characters that dominate the story.
Ethan, who in the book comes across as a young, thoughtful teen, is played onscreen as a bumbling, stumbling fool. His relationship with the female lead is uninspiring and the story offers inane dialogue between the couple whose relationship pales in comparison to the poorly-written courtship between the two Twilight leads.
Fans of the source material may be inclined to enjoy the cookie-cutter narrative, but as a reader of the book, I was surprised by how little of the story plays well onscreen. The only improvement is Emmy Rossum, who brings her villainous and over-the-top character to life. Rossum plays Lena’s cousin-- a caster on the dark side-- who can manipulate the men around her.
As one of the film's few highlights, Rossum will engage and enamor audiences. It’s too bad that the same can’t be said for the rest of the film.