Beautiful Creatures, based on a series of British teen romance novels (Caster Chronicles, 2009), continues into its second week, while Side Effects trots along into its third. Both are modest films within their genres, but given the glut of films out this weekend, these are welcome options worth considering.
With a production budget of around $60 million, should be comparable to the earlier Twilight films. This is a better film. Anyone turned off by witchcraft, ghosts, and well timed lightning bolts, might not be the target audience. For anyone else however, Beautiful Creatures is a warm and compelling coming of age story with a significant supernatural element.
Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich portray Lena and Ethan, the teenage star-crossed lovers, and their roles in the film dutifully depict the angst their dilemma puts them in. Lena is a witch. (They prefer to be called ‘Casters.’) Ethan is not. Witches are not meant to associate romantically with muggles. Er, mortals. The actors are certainly charismatic, but much of the drama is spelled out for the audience by the adult characters, each of whom has a reason to object to this romance. Much like Harry Potter, casting of this film is wisely divided between elders, portrayed by seasoned, Oscar caliber actors: Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons, and Emma Thompson – with relative newcomers for the younger roles. Whenever the elders are on screen, lots of scenery chewing naturally ensues, and it’s great fun.
Of special note is the $60 million budget previously mentioned. The story is not especially complex: small town boy meets girl of his dreams, they stand up against the town that opposes this. Will their love survive the ordeal? Oh, and the witch thing. So where’s that budget go? It’s nearly twice the expense of Warm Bodies. Answer: Effects. Warm Bodies needs zombie parts, but Beautiful Creatures needs grand costumes, and sets, and special effects. The cgi effects are often exceptional. There is some poetry, and a storm that are particularly impressive. That’s all I should say.
There are a few minor issues with this film. A small but noticable event occurs without explanation. And some scenes feel especially small town, robbing those scenes of necessary drama. Still, if you’re inclined to go along with this type of story, even grudgingly to amuse someone elses whim, Beautiful Creatures is a modest film, but breezy and fun. It’s certainly better than Twilight.
Note: It may be due to lousy positioning, but Beautiful Creatures opened to poor attendance during the Valentines Day weekend. The problem is that Safe Haven opened as well, and Warm Bodies was still fresh in theaters. Both compete directly with BC. It’s a shame, as low grosses will likely quash any chance at a sequel.
Steven Soderbergh is one prolific director. He’s given us: Sex, Lies & Videotape, Contagion, the Ocean’s films, Che, Erin Brokovich, Magic Mike, Syriana… I could go on, and on. But he also made Solaris. (Yikes.) I think I’ve seen about 90% of his films, and most are excellent. Recently, Soderbergh announced he was retiring. After seeing Side Effects, I wonder if he didn’t mean to say he had already retired, right in the middle of making this film.
The premiss is fairly straight forward: A woman visits a doctor, needing a prescription for anti-depressants. The prescription is filled, then adjusted, and then a new drug substituted. She’s trying to find balance in an unusually stressful life. The film explores her life, that of her doctor, and the pharmaceutical industry – but not in a preachy, condemning way. There is a problem, and this is how we address it.
This is a thriller, so naturally, something bad happens, and things get worse from there. And then even worse. The premise is interesting, the dilemma is compelling, and all of the actors perform admirably. The film is, typically Soderbergh-like, engrossing.
Until, that is… Once all the cards are on the table, and the viewers finally understand everything that is at stake, and the peril everyone has gotten themselves into, Soderbergh seems to have given up on the film. It’s as if you’re watching a master class on how to make a Hitchcock film, and then the instructor abruptly stops, and says, “Now, once we enter the third act, the protagonist must either fail – a tragedy – or rise to the occassion, and turn the tables on their enemy! And, you all know how that goes, get the thingy, prove what really happened, yada yada… blah blah… and, The End.” Well, the film feels very much like that conversation. You’re on the edge of your seat, you can’t see any fix to the problem, and then unspoken events (literally, a conversation you cannot hear) lead to a pat resolution in a record setting pace. It almost feels like whiplash.
The ending is a shame. Reasonably plausible? Sure. But I was so transfixed up to this point, I could have watched the resolution played out over another 20 minutes. As a thriller, and as a Soderbergh film, there was no reason the last act couldn’t have been more fully fleshed out. As it is, the film stops at 1 hour, 46 minutes. (90% Great. 10% Filler.)