Critic’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA
Directed by Richard LaGravanese. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann and Emma Thompson. Opens Thurs., Feb. 14 at area theaters.
Adolescence can be such a bitch. And, if the subtext of Beautiful Creatures is to be believed, so can those girls who emerge from its fog.
Somewhere in Beautiful Creatures are the raw materials for a fun, thrilling and perhaps poignant little melodrama. What we get from director Richard LaGravanese is an ungainly combination of Southern Gothic corn, teenage romance, and wonky old-Hollywood horror. Like Twilight, Beautiful Creatures also has its origins in a young adult novel about star-crossed lovers — one human, the other supernatural. True to its source, the movie indulges the themes of forbidden love and youthful longing to break free.
Beautiful Creatures charts the romance between Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrehreich) and Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert). Ethan is a handsome, literary-minded high-school senior — so literary, that he does the walk-and-read. And so restless to explore new horizons, he’s looking to attend a college far away from his too-small town of Gatlin, South Carolina. LaGravanese and his script play up some ugly stereotypes of Southern culture that may well be received as typical Hollywood elitism. During the film's opening scenes, Ethan narrates that Gatlin has more churches that libraries. It's the kind of town that’s heavy into Civil War re-enactments, book banning and being holier than thou.
Lena is a fellow student whose reputation precedes her — and it’s not good. The townsfolk suspect — correctly — she’s from a cursed family. It turns out Lena is part of what are called “casters” — witches to the rest of us. Once Lena reaches her 16th birthday, she will be claimed by either the Light or the Dark. Therein lies the dramatic purpose of Beautiful Creatures: will Lena succumb to her destiny or will Ethan’s love set her free?
Her mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson), is sure and delighted that the darkness isn’t far off — a fate that also befell Lena's sister, Ridley (Emily Rossum). (Ridley is a hoot of a bad girl: wearing clothes that leave little to the imagination and recklessly driving a red sports car.) As Sarafine, Thompson gives a performance that appears to channel Jessica Lange at her most grinning, face-touching wigginess. While Lena resigns herself to being doomed, Ethan, is convinced that she can be saved. Their interactions are, thankfully, free of the sulkiness and awkward stammers that occasionally mar the depictions of teen courtship.
The dialogue is cheesy, the set design gaudy, and more often than not, LaGravanese frames his characters in unnecessary close-ups. (The interior of the Duchannes family home looks as if a Busby Berkeley set had been dropped into the middle of the living room.) Taken at face value, this is silly stuff. As an allegory about the passage out of adolescence, it’s shallow, narcissistic — maybe even misogynistic — and totally appropriate to what passes for the all-or-nothing emotions of teen love.