Practical Magic (1998)

“Be careful what you wish for.”

It seems that part of the human condition is to want – to crave – that which we cannot have. Even The Rolling Stones reminded us that we can’t always get what we want. And in Practical Magic, not even witchcraft can find or foster the one thing these 90’s feminist icons all seek so desperately: true, reciprocated, unending love. Full of warmth and familial affection, Practical Magic is an uneven film that’s held back by a clumsy script, yet it gets better the more you watch it and the more you sit with it. I don’t think it’s a great movie, but it’s an undeniably entertaining one with a message worthy of a good spell.

Practical Magic begins as a full on fable, warning future women in the witchy Owens family that true love is a curse, and any man they fall in love with is bound to one day meet their untimely demise. But then it slightly shifts towards the more hopeful realm of fairy tales, where two orphaned sisters sent to live with their kooky Aunts are both fascinated with the idea of finding love one day, albeit in completely different ways. Flash forward some years and Sally (Sandra Bullock) runs an apothecary shop after suffering a grave loss. Her sister Gillian (Nicole Kidman) migrated west, partying too much and finding lust instead of love. Practical Magic works best in these moments of sisterhood, forging a true bond between two made up people. It feels real because they sell it so believably.

Too much of the middle of the movie seems to have been forcefully altered by studio heads, leading to really rough transitions, a lack of developed story beats, and a tone that’s neither here nor there. But Practical Magic and its dynamite cast still charm, and the film finally finds its footing when the Aunts leave after a few iconic midnight margaritas so that their nieces can clean up the mess of their own making. Gilly’s lover Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic) needs reborn, Sally’s new love interest investigator Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn) is on the missing persons case, and they have to rally up enough interest for women in the town to help them along the way and in the end. It’s amusing and insightful and colorfully inspired by its contemporary releases.

Practical Magic is a film focused on finding love and acceptance at its most unexpected, and it encourages women to be their true selves despite societal expectations and norms. It’s a messy, oftentimes clunky movie, but it comes together in the end to tell a story about writing your own chapters, and it’s packed full of memorable moments and lines that earn its place as a cult classic. But most of all, Practical Magic believes in the healing and saving and enveloping power of love. That it’s worthy of dreaming about and how patience and time can make those long sought after wishes real. That they can become practical, that wishing upon a star isn’t futile, and that sometimes we’re the ones being wished for whether we know it or not. If that’s not romantic, if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

“There’s a little witch in all of us.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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