Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) is a thoughtful loner who is anxious to escape his small Southern town. His quiet existence is turned upside down after he falls for a mysterious girl named Lena (Alice Englert). Together they discover dark secrets about their families and their town.
Director/Writer: Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You,” “Freedom Writers”)
Based On: The novel Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Notable Supporting Actors: Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann
MY TAKE: I went into into Richard LaGravenese's "Beautiful Creatures," with almost no expectations. I didn't know who was cast in it, and just like “The Hunger Games,” and “Warm Bodies,” I hadn't read the young-adult novel it's based on. Heck, I barely even watched trailers for it. This turned out to be a good thing because my mind was open about a movie I might not normally be interested in.
I was instantly disarmed by how charming and humorous Ethan’s opening narration is. It helps establish this bookish teen as a dreamer who longs for adventure outside his tiny Southern town of Gatlin, South Carolina. According to Ethan, Gatlin is the kind of place with quaint sayings that start with “There are only two kinds of people in Gatlin...” So it comes as no surprise that the closed-minded people there fear what they don’t understand.
That’s immediately why the citizens of Gatlin are suspicious of the quiet, dark haired Lena Duchannes and her reclusive uncle Macon Ravenwood (Irons). Of course it’s also the reason that Ethan is so drawn to Lena; she’s deep and thoughtful unlike the other airheads in his class. The townspeople unwittingly have just cause to be distrustful of Lena however. She comes from a family of sorcerers known as “casters,” who are part of an ancient race of beings.
There are two types of casters: light ones who use their magic for good and dark ones who use their magic for evil. At the outset of the film, Lena is approaching her 16th birthday, the time when female casters are chosen to be light or dark. Thus there are family members like Lena’s mother Sarafine (Thompson) and her cousin Ridley (Rossum) fighting for her to join the dark casters, and those like her uncle who want her to become a member of the light side. Logically, everything becomes complicated after Lena and Ethan fall for one another. Ethan becomes caught in her family’s crossfire, a target for attack because of Lena’s affections. She must not only try to protect him, but to avoid turning to the dark side at the same time.
“Beautiful Creatures” is your typical sappy, young-adult romance that centers on the stereotypical causes for adolescent angst. Despite its tired themes, it’s surprisingly witty at points. A large part of that has to do with Alden Ehrenreich’s excellent timing and delivery. For every hilarious line in the script though, there are at least two cringe-worthy ones that throw off the comedic rhythm. Ehrenreich and Englert have decent chemistry as the two young lovers, but Englert brings much less charisma to her character. What she lacks in personality though, is more than compensated for by hammy performances by Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Emmy Rossum. All three, especially Irons are wickedly amusing while they chew scenery. I might also add that Rossum is incredibly seductive as the manipulative Ridley. I know I’d certainly have a hard time resisting her spell just like the men in the film.
Unfortunately the fun acting and cheeky dialogue cannot makeup for the movie’s shortcomings in storytelling. The limited explanation of the caster mythology is incredibly confusing, the film’s pacing is uneven, and the ending is anticlimactic. After its bloated 2 hour running time, I was pretty relieved that it was finally over.