Practical Magic, based on a book by Alice Hoffman, is credited to three screenwriters:
- Robin Swicord, who had previous credits on Shag and Matilda, and would receive credit for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
- Adam Brooks, who had previous credits on French Kiss and Beloved, and would receive credit on Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Mozart in the Jungle.
- Akiva Goldsman, who had previous credits on Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Lost in Space, would receive credit on A Beautiful Mind and I Am Legend, and is now helming the next three entries in the Transformers series.
If you were to ask me to combine the qualities of Matilda, French Kiss and Lost in Space, there really is no better example than Practical Magic. The only sensibility that connects the three is a happy go lucky attitude intent on pleasing a mainstream milquetoast audience. Otherwise, each of these movies possess very different writing styles. When mixed together, you get something like Practical Magic, a movie where every scene and every subplot seems to have been written by a different person, and only the actresses are holding the movie together as a cohesive whole.
Practical Magic is girl power in the 90s. Well, a conservative guy’s sense of what girl power in the 90s should be. A family of witches in New England has lived with a curse for generations. Any man who falls in love with them is eventually doomed to die, all because one of their ancestors was betrayed during the trials. Two sisters, sensible Sandy Bullock and naughty Nicole Kidman, are raised by their two amazing aunts: Stockard Channing and Dianne Weist. When they grow up, Sandy sticks around to marry a doomed hunk and have a child while Nicole gets into drinking and drugs while dating an abusive gothy vampire.
This movie has no sense of pacing. All of this establishing stuff is the entirety of the first act. There’s some nonsense about the family being outcast from their community who knows they’re witches, and being different is awesome. At the end of the first act, they kill the goth (twice!) only to be investigated by a hunky cop. Then there’s a bottle of tequila drunk while everybody karaoke’s to Harry Nilsson’s Coconut? And, once the aunts learn of the real plot of the movie, Stockard and Dianne are like “your movie sucks, we’re outta here” and leave for a good 40 minutes of the film. Besides that, there’s just so much random ass bullshit that fills in hour two, including Nicole putting Sandy at the top of her school’s emergency call chart…because that’s some sort of status symbol? I don’t know.
Practical Magic alternates between the bizarre behavior of Matilda, the crowd pleasing conventionality of French Kiss, and the pathos-laden comedy of Lost in Space. Attempting and failing to hold it together, Griffin Dunne, who had previously directed the slightly schizophrenic, but better than its reputation, dark comedy Addicted to Love. There’s a lot of jaw-droppingly weird stuff in here, but its all rendered so mundane it becomes boring? So was the 90s. An era where the eclectic became pablum without becoming normal. I’m fascinated by this concept. There’s so many odd things happening that it never becomes truly dull.