Beautiful Creatures

Directed By: Richard LaGravanese

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, and Emma Thompson

It's Valentine's Day weekend, so there's plenty of love to be found at the box office.  Sappy moviegoers (and their unfortunate boyfriends or husbands) are making the obvious choice and going to see Safe Haven.  Action junkies can strangely find John McClane offering a healthy dose of fatherly love in A Good Day to Die Hard.  Finally, teens can get their romantic fix from Beautiful Creatures, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Margaret Stohl.  Admittedly, I had pretty low expectations for this supernatural love story but was pleasantly surprised to find that it could have been worse.

Gatlin is a community entrenched in the past.  With its Civil War reenactments and its insular backward views, those who live in this southern town are either too stupid to leave or too stuck to move.  Teenager Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) falls into the latter category.  With his mother dead and his father a recluse, the only person in town who really cares about him is Amma (Viola Davis), a onetime friend of his mother who helps take care of Ethan and his dad.  He's starting his junior year of high school, and it's looking like another miserable year in this South Carolina town.  His ex-girlfriend Emily (Zoey Deutch) won't stop hounding him, and everyone around him buys into the nonsense that Gatlin spews.  Everything changes for Ethan when the girl of his dreams walks into the room, literally.

Lena Duchannes (Alice Tenglert), the niece of rich weirdo Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), has arrived in Ethan's class.  The 15-year-old junior instantly becomes a target for ridicule and persecution.  There are plenty of rumors about Ravenwood being a Satanist, and the students see Lena no differently.  The only exception is Ethan, who likes her.  When Lena gets stranded on the side of a road during a storm, Ethan runs into her and takes her home to the Ravenwood estate.  The two hit it off, and start seeing a lot more of each other.  Young love ensues.  Lena's uncle Macon sees this relationship as a terrible risk though, while her mother, dark caster Sarafine (Emma Thompson), sees it as a powerful opportunity.  Lena and her relatives are casters (witches) with special powers.  At the age of sixteen, every caster has a Claiming in which they are chosen for either the light or the dark (good or evil), and Lena's sixteenth birthday on December 21st is fast approaching.  While each caster's Claiming should reflect his or her true nature, the Ravenwood family is cursed, especially in matters of love.

I would never say that Beautiful Creatures is a good movie.  That would be a lie.  That being said, the film is based on strong source material and boasts a talented cast.  There's really a good story to be told here, but director Richard LaGravanese is not the right guy to tell it.  Under the eye of LaGravanese, there are many missed opportunities to add suspense and intrigue to the movie, to tell the story in a meaningful way.  He does nothing to help build the romance between Ethan and Lena.  Worst of all, he underutilizes his impressive cast.  All in all, LaGravanese drops the ball in Beautiful Creatures.

LaGravanese tells this young adult love tale in a fairly straightforward manner.  He doesn't do anything to really engage his audience or set the tone of the film.  Despite his not-so-subtle caricature of southern culture and partially developed family feuds, LaGravanese adds no elements of suspense, conflict, or intrigue to the movie.  Wasting precious opportunities like Ethan's dreams of Lena, he does nothing to make the romance between these two young lovers feel like the destiny it's intended to be.  To make matters worse, he completely misuses his cast, especially the deliciously evil Emma Thompson and the darkly alluring Emmy Rossum, who get hardly any screen time.  Thanks to LaGravanese's efforts or a lack thereof, the movie feels like blah and really has no core.  Ultimately, there's substance but no style.

Though LaGravanese disappoints us, his cast does try to deliver the goods.  As Ethan and Lena, Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert have decent chemistry on screen and breathe a little life into the film with their youthful energy.  For his part, Ehrenreich is not a particularly talented actor, but he has a lot of passion, which can go a long way.  For her part, Englert brings an aura of mystery to the film, and plays into doubts surrounding her character's true nature quite well.  As Macon Ravenwood, Jeremy Irons delivers a decent performance, but he's handicapped.  His character really doesn't suit him well.  He's playing a protagonist and a southerner.  Enough said.  As the seer Amma, Viola Davis brings a maternal warmth to the film.  Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum are also quite entertaining as Sarafine and Ridley, the dark casters of the Ravenwood clan.

Beautiful Creatures is a bad movie but a somehow enjoyable one.  Director Richard LaGravenese gets this young adult love story all wrong.  Given the source material and the acting talent at hand, it could have been so much better.  With the right director, this movie could have defined what a good teen romance actually is.  As it stands, Beautiful Creatures gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few flirtinis with this one.