Supernatural teen dramas have been all the rages the past few years, with movie goers flocking to see every manner of movie about werewolves, vampires, and most recently zombies. Beautiful Creatures, focuses on a subset of the supernatural, witches, that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. While this adaptation of the young adult novels doesn’t always serve the magic of the story, the scorching chemistry between it’s two leads more than helps to override the pacing issues of the film and make this an enjoyable watch.
Beautiful Creatures, in a role reversal, introduces us to the human male, Ethan Wate, first in this tale. Ethan is an avid reader of books much too sophisticated for the podunk town of Gatlin, South Carolina and longs to put the whole town in his rear view. His world is shaken up the second he sets eyes on Lena Duchannes, a girl who has bounced around a lot. Turns out she’s a Caster, nicer term for witch, who is approaching her 16th birthday, where she will undergo the Claiming, where her powers will either become dark or light. Despite her uncle intentions, the two connect, forming a bond that threatens to put Lena in danger when Seraphine, a powerful sorceress, return to the town to try to use an ancient curse to claim Lena for the dark.
One of the main reasons this movie succeeds over its problems is the wonderful chemistry between the two leads, Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich. I wouldn’t have minded this being just scenes of the characters awkwardly trying to navigate their feelings for each other. The script is so painstakingly real in how these characters interact and gives them ample time to discover the beats of a growing relationship.
Of all the actors doing good work in this film, none are as great as Alden, who brought incredible depth to the role of Ethan. Rarely, if ever, to we see a male fall in love with a supernaturally inclined female character, so it’s great to see Alden play within the margins of the switch in gender roles. The movie also wisely makes use of his comedic talents, letting him riff on several jokes (the Titanic one is great) and play the lovesick human much better than I thought he could. He also shows us the downside to the “Damn all the odds I just want to be with this person!” mentality.
Another plus for the film is how easily it embraces it’s sillier elements. Jeremy Irons, Emmy Rossum and Emma Thompson have varying amounts of screen time, but each of them fully realizes what type of film they are in and act accordingly. “Is that all you got cuz?” Rossum yells during a dinner fight is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard during a showdown, but it plays so well within the film.
However this film is not without it’s faults. That aforementioned dinner showdown sequence is so foolish that you guffaw rather than enjoy it. (Spinning tables? That was the best thing they could think of?) It speaks to the large issue of the special effects in this film not being up to par with the story.
The other big problem with this movie is the pacing. This movie felt like it was seven movies all happening at once with different speeds. The love story is appropriately the focus of the narrative but it feels stretched out when you put it together with the other scenes. I love that the filmmakers gave us the time to get to know the characters, but other than Alice, Alden and Jeremy, nobody gets a full arc and many of the actors are shoved out of the way. Emmy Rossum has one of the best character entrances of anyone in the cast but she gets dropkick out of the narrative for a good 15 minute stretch. What was she doing in that time off screen? Getting a sandwich? Emma Thompson is the one most hurt by the editing problems, you never get the full feeling of her performance. But the real issue with the pacing boils down to the framing device of being able to see a countdown on Lena’s hand. It’s problematic when the script shows us entire days that Lena and Ethan spend together then jump like two weeks in time to show us another full day with the couple. This gives the narrative gives the film a jumpy feel that the movie never quite recovers from.