This retrospective review contains spoilers for Practical Magic.
Practical Magic premiered in 1998 when I was only three years old. Thankfully for my future critic self, my parents made sure to take care of my film and television education. In effect, I knew the film by Griffin Dunne, based on Alice Hofman’s book, early on. As the title indicates, Practical Magic is packed with titular magic but not only — it contains an empowering narrative, highlights the importance of sisterhood, and discusses how difficult it is to walk away from domestic abuse. All of those aspects make the film still very relevant for the new generation and first-time viewers.
The film focuses on the Owens family, highlighting the relationship between two sister witches, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman). The family also includes women’s aunts who practically raised them — Jett (Diane Wiest) and Frances (Stockard Channing). After Sally’s husband suddenly passes away due to the awful curse that lies upon the Owens women; a curse that prevents them from safely falling in love and living happily, the widow and her daughters, Antonia (Alexandra Artrip) and Kylie (Evan Rachel Wood) move back into Sally’s family manor.
But the story is more complex than that, with many elements that are less magical and more realistic, especially as one grows older and revisits the film. As the plot progresses and Gillian returns to the family home, her abusive boyfriend, Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic), follows, resulting in fatal consequences — death from the poison that Sally mixes in his drink. The situation shown in the film perfectly illustrates women’s fear of not being believed, even in light of self-defense. The third act of Practical Magic then shifts from its magical (sic!) undertones to a thriller, as the criminal investigation in Jimmy Angelov’s missing case commences under the watchful (two-colored) eyes of Gary Hallet (Aidan Quinn).
There’s a lot to admire about the third act, particularly when all the women in the village band together to help Gillian, who gets possessed by Jimmy’s tortured soul. Even after so many years, the sight of all the participants joining hands evokes strong emotions. Practical Magic’s premise about female strength, the damaging effect of abuse on one’s psyche, and the fight for body autonomy is still very relatable, making the film a timeless story.
There is one another aspect of Practical Magic that makes it memorable, and it’s the issue of bullying in the film. For the sisters as well as Sally’s daughters, being raised by witches has its consequences. In effect, many times throughout the film, we observe kids yelling, “Witch, witch, you’re a bi*tch!” as well as perceive fellow parents gaslighting Sally and begrudging Gillian in their prejudice. Said aspect may be helpful for younger audience where, perhaps, some struggle with the presence of bullying at school. Thanks to its versatility, the film is perfect for everybody.
There are many memorable moments in Practical Magic — one of them illustrates young Sally (Camilla Bell) casting a spell to find a perfect love — but with a twist. She conjures virtually impossible future partner to ensure that the person doesn’t exist. But, as the film proves further through Quinn’s character, it’s quite difficult to beat the fate at its own game. Artrip and Wood are also utterly charming in the roles of Sally’s daughters.
Next to the aforementioned components, Dunne’s picture possesses a suitable and catchy soundtrack that adds to the overall atmosphere of the film, with songs from Stevie Nicks, among others. When looking further into Practical Magic’s legacy and its Rotten Tomatoes score, which still stands at 21 percent, it becomes even more unbelievable, especially given the film’s aforementioned timelessness. The audience score, on the other hand, more accurately reflects the film’s reception.
Regardless of the score, and not without the flaws, Practical Magic will still have the ability to enchant viewers that are passionate about empowerment and representation of female characters on film and tv. It may not be a film for all, but the ambiguity of opinions demonstrates the beauty of art and how different people perceive it based on their own experiences and feelings. I’ll stand by my opinion that Dunne’s adaptation is a classic position for the Halloween season and an empowering film, ideal for a group hangout and a post-film discussion on themes contained in it.
At the very least, it’s so worth seeing Kidman, Bullock, Wiest, and Channing’s characters dancing around the kitchen and drinking “midnight margaritas” while humming Harry Nilson’s Coconut. Who knows, maybe after viewing, you’d like to apply Sally’s kind advise — Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for luck, and fall in love whenever you can.
Practical Magic is currently available to stream on Hulu.