Vampires, witches, werewolves, zombies, warlocks, fairies. Who knew there were so many other-worldly beings walking the streets of the United States? “Beautiful Creatures” offers up yet one more for our consideration—casters.
While “Beautiful Creatures” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, no one can deny the outstanding performances of its two leads, Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert. These relative newcomers to the screen are absolutely fantastic, especially Ehrenreich…more about him later.
Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese and based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, “Beautiful Creatures” is another take on Romeo and Juliet. Romeo in this instance is Ehrenreich as Ethan Wate and his Juliet is Englert as Lena Duchannes. Alternative rock band, Thenewno2 featuring Dhani Harrison (Beatle George Harrison’s son), has scored the entire movie and it is outstanding, complementing “Beautiful Creatures” perfectly.
Set in Gaitlin, SC, a stereotypical, small, redneck town, Ethan meets Lena on his first day as a high school junior. New to Gaitlin, she’s immediately on the receiving end of some malicious talk and gossip because her family is rumored to be devil worshippers. Ethan, however, is more enlightened than most of his peers. He finds her back-story intriguing (the fact that she’s pretty cute doesn’t hurt either) and after a hellish first day of school for Lena, the two have a near miss car accident on the way home. This almost-collision leads to some of the smartest, wittiest dialogue between two people that I’ve heard in ages. It’s perfection! Are these two in any way believable as 16- and 15-year olds? Not in the least? Do I care? NO.
As a real connection develops between the two, Lena reveals that she is a caster and that she comes from a family of casters. Casters are beings that are capable of performing magic spells…they can change weather, cast allusions…just to name two. The movie doesn’t go into a lot of detail about what else casters can do, but you are led to believe it is a lot and much of it not good). As a caster, when Lena turns 16 in a few months, her true nature will emerge and guide her to either the light or the dark side. Lena is afraid that she will turn evil like her cousin, Ridley (Emmy Rossum), or her mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson). Her uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) has purposely brought Lena to Gaitlin to keep her safe and lead her to the light, but he is fighting the two-pronged attack from Ridley and Sarafine as well as the unwitting interference from Ethan. How Lena and Ethan battle all these various forces makes for a sometimes confusing, but always fascinating story.
Some of the acting may appear over the top, but given the nature of the story, it works. Emma Thompson, in particular, seems to have a lot of fun with her role, and that just serves to make the movie better. Jeremy Irons is also well cast as the concerned uncle. The rest of the supporting cast—Rossum, Viola Davis,Thomas Mann, Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale—is terrific and not what one might normally expect from a movie targeting teens.
Ultimately, however, “Beautiful Creatures’” success rests with its two leads—Englert and and Ehrenreich.
As Lena, Alice Englert is not your typical ingénue. The daughter of director Jane Campion, she’s attractive in a Lily Collins kind of way, and she can act.
But the real find of “Beautiful Creatures” is Alden Ehrenreich. He’s not conventionally attractive, but he is adorable. As a precocious intellect, his way with the Southern dialect, his handling of his fast, quippy dialogue… Ehrenreich‘s just utterly fabulous…even if he doesn’t seem 16. I felt like I was discovering a young Dustin Hoffman…and hopefully someday soon I will learn how to pronounce his name.