I say it every year: Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic is my muse — at least for the month of October. Magical, wild and impetuous with a bad habit for bad men and a bangin' haircut — what's not to love about Gillian Owens? This is the thing about Practical Magic. I think the 1998 movie has achieved cult-like status because of the vibe and aesthetic of the characters (Sandra Bullock as Sally Owens and her earthy '90s wardrobe!) and its setting (that multi-story house!) rather than the actual plot because the actual plot... sucks.
And I say that with a lot of love because I love Practical Magic, and I always have since it premiered back when I was in high school. At the time, I was 15 years old and pretty much a constant customer at the local occult store, dabbling in all sorts of cosmic things, like astrology, tarot cards, and crystals — at a time when it certainly wasn't cool at all to be interested in such witchy things. Which is why Practical Magic was such an iconic movie for me. Here were two beautiful and famous actresses (Bullock and Kidman) making witchcraft seem not only sexy AF but, well, practical. After all, it was very practical to light candles with a single breath like Sally does, or become number one on the school's phone tree (which Gillian does for Sally), or grow herbs and concoct potions, including the deadly belladonna. That's what witches did, and didn't we all want to be witches after watching this movie? Uh, yes.
So that's why I think we, meaning mostly millennials like myself, love Practical Magic. It gives us permission to embrace the "little witch inside of us" and daydream about a life that includes sipping midnight margaritas and selling expensive homemade soaps and shampoos in a tiny minimal shop that somehow pays the bills (including the property tax of a very large oceanside home). All of the other stuff in the movie is just that — stuff.
A Little Refresher
Based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic follows sisters Sally and Gillian Owens. Born into a magical family, they’re raised by two eccentric aunts after the death of their parents from a family curse. As adults, they end up having to call on their powers in unexpected ways when one of their lives hangs in the balance.
My Thoughts & Observations
Sally and Gillian burying Gillian's ex-boyfriend Jimmy (Goran Visnjic) in the backyard after poisoning him with said belladonna? That's mildly interesting, but it really doesn't pack a punch. I mean, you want him to die anyway, so there's no huge loss there. And you kinda know Sally and Gillian will be all right (they are witches, right?), so there's not a ton of suspense either.
The Ghost of Boyfriends Past
When Jimmy comes back from the dead as an apparition, it's almost laughable, especially since he sort-of-kind-of resembles Bill Pullman in Casper. Re-watching it, I couldn't take that part seriously. It was a little weird.
Love Without Logic
Stranger still was Gillian being possessed by him. We didn't really get a full back story on how or why that happened except that, hey, they're witches and things like that are normal in their world? Then, there's the love subplot involving Detective Hallet (Aidan Quinn) and Sally, which, honestly, I do ship — but their relationship did seem rushed, even if they are true soulmates.
In Conclusion, It's Lackluster But Lovable
Overall, I think the movie has a few memorable scenes — like the Owens women dancing drunkenly to "Coconut," Sally and Gillian sealing their bond with blood, and every moment between Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing as the aunts. Having said all of that, I don't think it holds together as a complete film.
But that's OK! I don't think we watch Practical Magic for its cinematic prowess but rather for its nostalgia (it has a killer '90s soundtrack, too) and the chemistry of its stars, and, of course, the hope that our days could also be filled with magic if we just: "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."