Laremy Legel February 14, 2013
Young love has been roundly ruminated upon throughout the history of storytelling, with examples ranging from Helen of Troy to “Romeo and Juliet,” and so doing something innovative or ambitious is difficult against the sheer contextual weight of the genre. Still, “Beautiful Creatures” has more than a few things going for it, a strong female protagonist, a lovely (though bleak) color palette, and a more complex story arc than your average “Twilight” film. For fans of Valentine’s Day activities, this is a nice little treat.
“Beautiful Creatures” opens by considering teenager Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), his sense of alienation, and his great love of literature. He’s a small-town kid who desperately wants out, the fictional town of Gatlin, South Carolina is really cramping his style. Initially, Ethan’s Southern accent feels forced, but as the film progresses he gains a firmer hand on the dialect. “Beautiful Creatures” also goes to the well a little early on the voiceover technique, but soon recovers, largely dropping the method near the end. There seems to be some tragic backstory involving Ethan’s parents, (Full disclosure: I’m a non-reader of the book) so Amma (Viola Davis) watches over him, making sure he makes it to class and has adequate meals. A new year of high school is starting, and Ethan’s feelings on the matter aren’t super positive. However, when he notices a new girl, Lena (Alice Englert), whom everyone else seems to instantly hate, he’s smitten. It’s a pretty basic setup, perfunctory even, but it’s sufficient enough to get us to the main thrust of the plot. Lena has some big hurdles ahead of her, she’s dealing with a curse, her fate hangs in the balance, and mean-spirited relatives aren’t helping the situation any. Lena and Ethan become entangled in something bigger than either can handle alone, and it’s here the film gains real momentum.
“Beautiful Creatures” rests entirely upon the shoulders of leads. And in that sense, it completely works. As Ethan, the local boy who wants out, and Lena, the sullen girl with powers, “Beautiful Creatures” does well to portray them as authentic teens. It’s a film built on large dollops of romance and first love, but it’s no less effective for the method. The chemistry between actors Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert is quite strong, solving many of the film’s most immediate issues. The execution from director Richard LaGravenese is steady throughout, and there are themes occasionally hit upon that are better than your average romance. Another solid aspect of “Beautiful Creatures” is the striking visuals. It’s often gray or dark green, offering lush landscapes and moody templates for our characters to play upon. The great majority of the film is only Ethan and Lena, with other characters floating in and out of their field of vision, though plenty of sepia-toned historical intonations are hinted at as well. Alice Englert’s character of Lena also deserves high praise, it’s nice to see the traditional love story flipped on its head to reflect changing gender roles.
The largest dings on this film are presented in the form of shabby editing. Entire plot lines are completely ignored for half an hour, only to be weirdly re-introduced, and without any fluidity. The logic presented with regards to memory erasing and time-shifting is also extremely dubious, and that’s even after you factor in the entire “everyone has supernatural ability!” angle. It shouldn’t be a structural defect to have to deal with spells, teens with powers and ancient curses, every franchise from “Harry Potter” to “X-Men” has tackled this phenomenon effectively. No, it’s the manner in which “Beautiful Creatures” considers these curveballs which comes off as relatively unsophisticated. This is the only arena where the film is actively worse than something like “Twilight,” other than that, from acting to visual artistry, “Beautiful Creatures” wins by pure knockout against most young adult fiction adaptations.
The measure of any truly great fictional world is the desire you have to return to it, and it’s here that “Beautiful Creatures” thrives. The town of Gatlin, the complicated relationship between Ethan and Lena, the idea of “casters” (they don’t like to be called witches) walking among us, these are the elements that lend “Beautiful Creatures” a quirky seductiveness. The film has real moments of, well, beauty, and any romantic will find something to appreciate here. Sure, this film could have gone horribly wrong, but the characters and chemistry are strong, and as such “Beautiful Creatures” should be lauded for elegantly delivering a tale that at least feels fresh and vibrant.
When not pondering casters, Laremy writes books about film criticism . He’s open to the idea of a woman being able to smote his enemies.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice englert, Beautiful Creatures, Emma T, Review, Richard LaGravenese, Viola davis