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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Crushed Film Festival presents: Practical Magic

Submitted by on April 11, 2011 – 7:45 PM31 Comments

The Movie: Practical Magic

The Crush Object: Goran Visnjic

The Story: Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, respectively) struggle with their family legacy. Not only do they come from a long line of witches, which sees them ostracized in their tiny seaside town, but their ancestor, Maria, put a curse on the men who would fall in love with Owenses: the clicking of the deathwatch beetle means death to husbands and lovers (well, male ones; the obvious Sapphic solution to the problem isn’t explored).

The inevitable demise of their father — and their mother’s subsequent death of heartbreak — meant that Sally and Gilly were largely raised by their eccentric aunts Jet and Frances (Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing, both extremely charming despite laboring under 49 pounds of hair extensions each), but while the aunts took a magic-positive, chocolate-for-breakfast approach to the situation, the girls grow into women with a troubled relationship to their powers. Sally falls in love, gets married, and has two daughters with Michael (Mark Feuerstein), only to hear the beetle and lose the “normal” life she always craved; Gilly hits the road, only using her magic to lure, or control, the various unsuitable men that come into her life.

When Sally moves back in with her aunts and Gilly finds more trouble than she bargained for with Jimmy Angelo (Visnjic), they use magic to solve the problem — only to create a much bigger, more zombie-esque one by toying with the dark arts. They’ll have to face down their inheritance, the monkey’s-paw trouble they’ve gotten themselves into — and the embodiment of a spell Sally cast many years ago.

Practical Magic isn’t the kind of movie I would see on its own merits; it would have to have at least one formidable cutie in it, and PM‘s menu of three options (depending on how you feel about Aidan Quinn — I signed on with Reckless back in the day) qualifies it. But it holds up on its own, too, with likable performances from all the leads; it’s Kidman at her most zesty, before she retreated into the current preserve of capital-I Important roles where she now sits, doll-like, watery-blonde, staring. The 1998 fashion is kind of fun, too: all those square-neck tank tops, paisley maxi-skirts, and clonky block heels.

The script and direction have moments of clonk — Margo Martindale’s climactic “Let’s clean house” is delivered and edited strangely, and the ongoing “be yourself” motif vis-à-vis magic is superfluous. It’s also unclear why, if they have such a tight sisterly bond, Gilly didn’t show up for Sally and Michael’s wedding, or for Michael’s funeral. Only in movies do siblings who are supposed to like each other not show up for shit like that.

Overall, though, it’s cute and well acted; Wiest and Channing have several lovely moments, both in throwaway jokes and the touching regret they feel when Sally begs them to bring Michael back and they have to refuse. Chloe Webb is underused, but it’s always nice to see her, and for those of you who, like me, obsess over copying elements of set design, there’s a lot of fun vintage stuff to look at in the background.

The Backstory: Goran Visnjic. End of story.

…Welllll, not quite — not in this case. I’ve sat through a fair amount of shite for five minutes of that guy (see: Rounders, a future CFF installment), but the issue here isn’t that the movie sucks and he’s hardly in it. It’s that, in every scene, he’s either a creepy, abusive alcoholic…or he’s a creepy, abusive undead alcoholic. Who wears leather vests and is obsessed with Elvis. Bah.

I don’t regret it, but only because the movie is pretty good. Visnjic is just a greezy mess.

The Embarrassment Level: Point five. Visnjic, while nasty here, is reasonable grounds for watching a bad movie — which, though it’s not my genre, this actually isn’t.




  • Sam says:

    This is one of those lazy Sunday movies I’ll watch while I clean or something. The book is better and I’m glad Sandra Bullock decided against expanding this into a tv show. But this was maybe the last time I ever liked Nicole Kidman in something and she’s so beautiful here.

  • robin says:

    I have watched the movie over and over, read the book, watched the movie again and again. I think Aidan Quinn is adorable as the impossibly good guy. I enjoyed his work in “Benny and Joon” but I liked that film primarily for Johnny Depp. “Practical Magic” is where I started to see Aidan as a hunk in his own right. Also, the little girls are so sweet they make my teeth ache.

  • FloridaErin says:

    Oh, man, I had forgotten about this movie! One of the many I watched in undergrad with my girlfriends.

    “it’s Kidman at her most zesty, before she retreated into the current preserve of capital-I Important roles where she now sits, doll-like, watery-blonde, staring”

    THANK you. I haven’t been able to explain to people while Kidman has annoyed me so terribly in everything she’s done since “Moulin Rouge!” and that paints the exact picture I’m looking for.

  • badkittyuno says:

    I saw this for the first time when I was 13, and for some reason, remembered only the “lime in the coconut” scene and the feeling that the whole movie was kind of dirty/sexy/naughty. Rewatching it now, I attribute my 13 year old self’s *ahem* feelings to Goran Visnjic at his dirtiest. Yum.

  • Whitney says:

    I have fond memories of picking this out for movie night in my freshman dorm and one of my friends getting so freaked out by the zombie/possession part that she couldn’t go to sleep alone in her room (her roommate was gone for the weekend).

    I read the book only a few years ago and even though I liked the movie, I loved the book — it follows the family long enough for Sally’s daughters to grow up, and all the Owens women and their various relationship problems get equal time and development, instead of Sally being the focal character.

  • Deanna says:

    This is my “It’s raining, the baby’s taking an extra-long nap, there’s nothing to clean…tea and a movie!” film. It’s a nice rainy-day diversion.

  • Deanna says:

    Also, Stockard Channing’s delivery of the line “Do you have any friends?” slays me every time.

  • “…where she now sits, doll-like, watery-blonde, staring.”

    Perfect; this encapsulates her entirely.

  • Amanda says:

    Oh, this was a sleepover favorite in high school with my friend Taryn. When she came out here to be in my wedding (many years after HS sleepovers) we made it a point to have quite a few midnight margaritas.

    While I enjoy this movie because The Visnjic and The Quinn, the fond memories associated with it are what keep me watching it.

  • Annie B says:

    I’ve always loved that movie… and felt strangely ashamed of it, I don’t quite know why.

    I have it on DVD, I think I’ll watch it again this week-end!

  • Jennifer M. says:

    I remember watching it in college with a bunch of friends. There is this scene where a broom falls over and one of the aunts portentously says “Broom fell down, company’s coming”. The very next second, one of our guy friends POUNDS on the front door. We all jumped 3 feet.

  • Kizz says:

    For Bad Movie/Good Visjnic have you tried Committed with Heather Graham?

  • Catherine says:

    I was never able to warm to this movie, because I loved the book SO SO much and the movie was so different. Now that it’s…thirteen years later (GOD), maybe I’ll give it another try.

  • Shannon in CA says:

    I love this movie but, for some reason, I’m ashamed to admit it. The funny thing is, everytime I tell someone I love it, they say “I love it too!”.

  • Trasherati says:

    Hells to the yes on “Reckless” – I signed up for Aidan hook, line, and hormonal sinker with that one.
    I’m still struck by the fact that he didn’t rocket to super-hunk stardom after that movie – but Tom Cruise did after “Risky Business”?

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Honestly, all I remember about this movie is the hair. It was like a Pantene commercial with a plot and zombies.

  • Krista says:

    I’ve always loved this movie. The clothes and that house! Quinn!

    I got around to reading the book a few years ago and didn’t like it. The movie is such fluff that the book seemed too somber.

  • Brandi says:

    This movie is spoiled for me becuase my ex (who I had a crush on through high school and then hooked up with as a freshman at his college when he was a senior) loved it. Why did he love it? Becuase he was a Wicca/Witchcraft dilettante and thus loved anything having to do with witches. This movie, the show Charmed, the movie where Buffy was a witch/chef. So yeah, tainted forever by his doucheyness.

    And I hope I haven’t offended anyone, had he taken Wicca/Witchcraft seriously or really acted like it was something he really believed in that would have been fine, but he didn’t beyond watching the above mentioned shows and carrying around a blank book he called his Book of Secrets.

    Ok, going to rebury all this now…

  • attica says:

    I totally watched this movie for the very same reason, the Veesh. I liked it better than I thought I would, but I didn’t like it that much. Still, one does cherish the Kidman flicks before she went all botoxy.

  • Meredith says:

    Looove this movie. Love. It just showed up on instant Netflix – I’ll have to give it another look-see.

  • Kat from Jersey says:

    I love the look of this movie, and of course, Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest are awesome as the witchy aunts (“Clothing is optional; as you may well remember!”). The house is practically its own character, and now tops the list of my dream TV/movie houses.

    This is pretty much the last time that Nicole Kidman looked like herself. She was so naturally pretty; I just don’t get it. Now I really can’t stand to watch her in anything, due to Sars’ apt description of her nowadays, above.

  • Lacinda says:

    Love this movie! It’s one of the few that my mom and I will watch together for sheer enjoyment (instead of mocking). I read the book based on my love of the movie, and just did not enjoy it… But it seems I’m in the minority. I was surprised by the tone shift but mostly just annoyed with the writing itself. And I agree completely about the whole Kidman thing- this is actually one of the ONLY movies I like Kidman in because of that whole “let me stare consumptively and be brittle and sad” schtick.

  • M says:

    I remember watching this in the theater, back when I was a teenager and finding out that Dr. Kovac from “ER” was in a movie meant seeing it was a given.

    The scene where Sally and Gillian have to write on Johnny’s body with something white and use canned whipped cream? Gave me so many ideas!

  • adam807 says:

    Yeah, Nicole Kidman hasn’t had work done at all. Noooooo. She does realize she’s been filmed and photographed for decades when she makes those denials, right? Look at that photo!

  • Elisa says:

    I LOVE this movie. There are so many things to love about it. Besides all the awesome female actresses (why isn’t Stockard Channing in EVERYTHING?) it had the hot men and a fun storyline. Well…you know…besides the accidental killing and poltergeisting that ensues.

    Bullock and Kidman had really great sibling chemistry. I totally agree that Kidman has since stopped….emoting? Although she was great in Moulin Rouge.

    Actually, she was also pretty good in “Australia”, perhaps only Baz Luhrman can bring that side of her out now.

  • Kristina says:

    Oh, I own this movie. OWN IT. Granted, I barely pull it out, because it’s on tv all the time, but it’s always there, just in case I need it. Just add a pitcher full of margaritas, maybe chocolate chip cookies, and your evening is set.

  • Jennifer M. says:

    @adam807 – apparently celebs often make a fine distinction – surgical intervention = getting work done, but botox and collegen injections etc don’t count as work.

  • Sophie says:

    I watch this movie whenever it’s on just for a glimpse of the kitchen. Ohh…covet.

  • Jaybird says:

    Brandi just brought up memories of a Vine letter from a chick whose guy was guilting her into working to buy him chain mail. I don’t know why, but that’s exactly what that sounded like. “Book of SECRETS”? What kind of gaping butthole does that?

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    @Jaybird, Ha! The same kind that goes around with rando “magick” medallions on black satin cords around their necks, wearing hideous boots with pointy elf toes, long hair they can’t be bothered to keep trimmed or conditioned, ostentatiously writing in their “journals” all covered with ink drawings of pentagrams and naked tree/women with leaves for fingers…

    Why, no, I don’t have anyone like this in my past from when I was way old enough to know better. Heavens, no.

  • doriette says:

    Oh, Jaybird. I thought I was the only one who remembers that letter so vividly. Well, really, I remember Sars’ response. “CHAINMAIL!?”

    That recall just made my day.

    I’ll admit that I, too, love this movie, except I can’t watch the beginning, because Sally’s desperation to find the beetle totally freaks me out. I just start watching it after Feuerstein’s gone.

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