Film

Beautiful Creatures

Step right up, Twihards

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Southern goth-chic gets a swoony supernatural makeover in Beautiful Creatures, a teen franchise-starter that suggests what Twilight might have looked like with a reasonable budget, a competent script and halfway-decent special effects, but still saddled with next-best source material. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s book, the first of four, represents a calculated synthesis of proven YA-lit elements and recent publishing success tactics, which makes for ingratiating storytelling on the page. Fortunately, writer-director Richard LaGravenese has jettisoned most of the novel and refashioned its core mythology and characters into a feverishly enjoyable guilty pleasure, unapologetic in its mass-market rebel ‘tude.

Though Beautiful Creatures has what it takes to support a series—a “gifted” girl, a smitten guy and powerful evil forces determined to keep them apart—the film could face trouble winning over cynical young audiences who view it as the latest shameless attempt to cash in on the fantasy craze, which, of course, it is. And yet, now that the Twilight and Harry Potter series have run their course, the timing seems right for a soapy romance in which a sensitive small-town hunk (Alden Ehrenreich) falls hard for the new girl in town, not really minding that she’s a witch—or “caster,” as they prefer to be called here.

With a dark-haired, pale-skinned look more likely to inspire 1920s audiences than today’s supermodel-obsessed tastes, Alice Englert brings a refreshingly relatable quality to the role of 15-year-old Lena Duchannes, who’s moved to dead-end Gatlin, S.C., after things got out of control at her last school. Lena wants to keep a low profile while counting down the days until her 16th birthday, when a family curse predicts she will be “claimed” as a dark witch, but Ethan recognizes her as the mysterious girl he’s been dreaming about for months, and insists on getting to know this melancholy stranger.

The best young-adult offerings tap into deeper themes that resonate with teens, but this one trades mostly in dopey wish fulfillment, granting magical powers and a devoted admirer to girls who imagine themselves as outsiders. It’s about feeling different, having a secret and discovering that special soulmate in whom one can confide. With his heavy brow knit in an expression of deep concern, Ehrenreich looks the way a young Orson Welles might if cast on a CW series, with a plucky Southern accent in place of a sonorous radio voice.

Though the film preserves the idea of Ethan as narrator, it ditches the novel’s off-puttingly snide tone, allowing the popular girls—led by self-righteous ex-girlfriend Emily (Zoey Deutch)—to damn themselves, while saving the amusing putdowns for Gatlin. Nearly everything about the book has been streamlined for the screen, which may rankle fans (who are likely to miss the ethereal song that binds Ethan to Lena, at least), but it makes for a far cleaner plot.

While Lena spices up a traditional teen courtship with doses of magic—as when she caps a date by conjuring snow out of thin air on a muggy December afternoon—her powerful dark relatives (a vampy cousin played by Emmy Rossum and shape-shifting undead mom Sarafine, played with lip-smacking relish by Emma Thompson) arrive to demonstrate what happens when witches go bad. The film goes out of its way to forge memorable character introductions, which will serve the series well, should sequels follow.

By granting LaGravenese the freedom to refashion the novel as he sees fit, Warner Bros. gives Beautiful Creatures an edge over other recent hit fantasy-series adaptations, which have often shown stiff, gospel-like fidelity to their source material. By contrast, this project comes across as downright blasphemous—and not only against the potboiler that inspired it; LaGravenese’s script takes on Bible-beaters, book-banners and all who invoke God to justify small-minded prejudice. In one particularly campy scene, Sarafine goes head-to-head with Lena’s guardian (Jeremy Irons, the picture of drawling Old South gentility) in the local church, dabbing holy water behind her ears like perfume as she dismisses the superstitious townsfolk’s notions of religion.

Considering how little it takes to get certain groups riled up about what their kids are reading, the film goes awfully far out of its way to align itself with blacklisted literature, offering up Viola Davis’ voodoo “seer” (and resident librarian) as its high priestess. Garcia and Stohl clearly saw To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye as models for the series, although Beautiful Creatures demonstrates few of their insights into human nature, hewing closer to Judy Blume and Twilight fan fiction. Likewise, while Ethan and Lena turn one another onto Vonnegut and Bukowski, throwing their names around for punk credibility, either writer would surely recoil to see himself quoted in this context.

The film ultimately plays like so much teenage girl poetry, heavy on the angst, endearingly naive in its notions of love and yet brought vividly to life by a game cast, evocative locations (both indoors and out) and stunning anamorphic lensing. Louisiana works nicely for Civil War-obsessed Gatlin, suggesting a tween-friendly True Blood.

ICU Roof #2
More Film...
LA 92
A cautionary tale

Often, documentaries about historic events prompt the question, “Why now?” Sadly, that will never be asked about Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin’s searing LA 92, which arrives on the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots to address an America more conscious than ever of the problems…

more »
Rumble
The Indians Who Rocked the World

In the fascinating documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, the great jazz critic Gary Giddins says, “The one group that hasn’t really been investigated in terms of their contribution [to music history] is the Native Americans.”

This new film, co-directed by Catherine…

more »
Blade Runner 2049
Man or replicant?

In 1982, when replicants hadn’t yet become a Hollywood business model, Blade Runner failed to do what Warner Brothers hoped it would: make a pile of money.

It succeeded, however, in acquiring the reputation of a modern science-fiction classic. Director Ridley Scott’s 2019-set story…

more »
Events
Today
Book Group Mixers

5:30pm|Village Books

Bringing history into sharp focus

10:00am

Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

U.S. Citizenship Class

6:00pm|Lynden Library

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

3MB

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Summer Bike Stories

7:00pm|Cafe Velo

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble
Tomorrow
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

3MB

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Grand Opening and Open House

11:00am|Social Fabric

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Clean Eating

2:00pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|downtown Bellingham

Art Night

5:00pm|SpringHill Suites by Marriott

12 Minutes Max Auditions

5:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Amber Sky CD Release Party

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

6:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Poetry Party

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Upstream

7:00pm|Village Books

USA Dance

7:00pm|Majestic

Thriller Dance Class

7:00pm|Moles Farewell Tributes

Halloween Movie Night

7:00pm|BHS Performing Arts Center

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Holding the Light

8:00pm|Honey Moon

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Saturday
Fall Craft & Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

3MB

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Women of Lockerbie

7:00pm|Lynden Christian High School

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Book and Bake Sale

10:00am|Lynden Library

Gore & Lore Tours

6:00pm|Historic Fairhaven, downtown Bellingham

Falliday Vintage Market

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Lynden Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Terrell Creek

Scarecrow Stuffing Contest

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Landscape stewards work party

9:00am|Chuckanut Center

Pumpkins 4 Pajamas

9:00am|Lakeway Fred Meyer

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Pumpkin Patch on Rails

9:00am|Wickersham Station

Port race ponders a wasted waterfront

9:30am

Everyday Superheroes 5K

10:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Blaine Oktoberfest

10:00am|Blaine

Community Cider Pressing

10:00am|Chuckanut Center

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Enlightened Caterpillar

10:30am|Village Books

Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Crown Jewel Wilderness

11:00am|Western Washington University Bookstore

Mushrooms gone wild

12:00pm

Fidalgo Youth Symphony

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Conquering Writer's BLock

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Winter Birds of Whatcom County

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Undersea Bubble Fantasia

2:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Brew on the Slough

5:00pm|Maple Hall

Community Library Celebration

5:00pm|North Fork Library

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Seeds of Change

6:30pm|Edison Granary

The Great Unconformity

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Symphony's Gala Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Whose Live Anyway?

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

The Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Original Comedy Night

8:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Trove Bellingham Farmer’s Market Mt. Baker Theatre Undersea Bubble CWWarrenMiller Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1