Posted in Film, Uncategorized

The Sandra Bullock Files #25: Practical Magic (1998)

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The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.

Practical Magic is a film that has two tremendous qualities — Sandra and Nicole Kidman, as sisters. When this project was first announced in 1997, it sounded like a sure thing. How in the world could anyone screw up a movie with these two dynamic actresses playing witches? Well, you have Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin) co-write the script, and you give Griffin Dunne, a better actor than filmmaker, the directing reigns. While the film has its fans, Practical Magic is mostly a waste of concept and talent. It’s not a terrible movie, not near Sandra’s worst, but the consistent mediocrity is what makes the film so frustrating.

On the DVD audio commentary, the producer and director both say that their favorite scene is the “Midnight Margarita” scene that takes place halfway through the film, but this scene highlights everything that is wrong with Practical Magic: nobody knows what it’s supposed to be. It starts whimsical, with a delightful prologue, leading to some cheesy but fine scenes in the first fifteen minutes. But then the movie takes an abrupt turn when Sally (Sandra) goes to save her sister Gillian (Kidman) from her sordid lifestyle and accidentally kills one of her lovers. This event sets off the silly conflict of the rest of the movie, but it’s ultimately treated as a device to bring Sally closer together with a private investigator (Aidan Quinn).

There were so many places to take this movie. Imagine what a director like Guillermo Del Toro would have done with these actors and this material. The story that the producer and director apparently wanted to tell was a murder mystery, mixed in with a hokey love story that never takes off because Sandra and Quinn have little chemistry. Worst of all? There’s not much magic in Practical Magic! It’s alluded to a lot, and there are a few scenes where the two sisters, and sometimes their aunts (Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest), perform a spell or two. But not until the very end do we get any real magic, and it’s only used to eradicate an evil spirit out of Gillian. Hocus Pocus this movie shouldn’t have necessarily been, with Sandra and Kidman hamming it up for ninety minutes, dancing and singing and riding on broomsticks. But a more specific vision, a creative point of view, could have turned this from a lackluster disappointment to a memorable late ’90s guilty pleasure.

Sandra said in a press junket for Practical Magic that one of the greatest things to happen to her in her career was the failure of Speed 2, because it meant that she could finally pursue smaller projects that she was more interested in rather than big action blockbusters. Unfortunately, in this case, a smaller project doesn’t always mean better. One of the few joys of Practical Magic is that it’s Sandra’s movie, more than it is Kidman’s, and she has the occasional funny moment. But the film just never comes to life. Practical Magic began Sandra’s mediocre period, with movies like Forces of Nature and Murder by Numbers not doing her career any favors. We certainly are still a long way from Gravity.

Best Scene: The final scene, when the family in witch hats jump off the roof of their house.

Best Line: “It was the curse, wasn’t it! He died because I loved him so much!”

Fun Facts

After bad test screening reactions, composer Michael Nyman’s score was rejected for sounding too European. It was replaced with a score by Alan Silvestri. The change was made so late that the first batch of soundtrack CDs had Nyman’s score on it.

According to Sandra in the DVD commentary, in the margarita scene, Sandra and Kidman actually did get drunk.

For the final scene, the entire population of the real town was invited to show up in costume and appear as townsfolk.

In 2010, Warner Bros. and ABC Family attempted to develop a television series based on this film. To date, it hasn’t been produced.

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