PRACTICAL MAGIC is Practically the Pick of the Week

by Elizabeth Stoddard

Cinapse Pick of the Week

Exactly what it sounds like, the Pick of the Week column is written up by the Cinapse team on rotation, focusing on films that are past the marketing cycle of either their theatrical release or their home video release. So maybe the pick of the week will be only a couple of years old. Or maybe it’ll be a silent film, cult classic, or forgotten gem. Cinapse is all about thoughtfully advocating film, new and old, and celebrating what we love no matter how marketable that may be. So join us as we share about what we’re discovering, and hopefully you’ll find some new films for your watch list, or some new validation that others out there love what you love too! Engage with us in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook! And now, our Cinapse Pick Of The Week…

Today I’d like to remind you about the oft-ignored, rarely-taken-seriously 1998 film Practical Magic. Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman (just barely, but that’s enough fodder for a separate post), Griffin Dunne’s movie introduces us to sisters Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) Owens. After growing up in a closed-minded small town, Gillian strikes out on her own while Sally sticks around, yearning for some semblance of normalcy.

See, the thing is that Sally and Gillian are witches. They come from a long line of New England witches, including aunts Frances (Stockard Channing) and Jet (Dianne Wiest) who raised them from young girls. The aunts work love spells and such for the townspeople, who in turn ostracize and harass the Owens sisters. Events unfold leaving Sally a stunned widow shopkeeper (Character Actress Margo Martindale plays one of her employees!) while Gillian comes under the thrall of a charmer/abusive partner (Goran Visnjic before his stint on ER). An Arizona lawman played by Aidan Quinn comes to town and Sally and Gillian have to work together against and with him. Yeah, the film’s story is fairly topsy-turvy, but it doesn’t care.

Practical Magic is a romance — I’d argue that the dark dramatic elements disqualify it as a romantic comedy (although there are certainly funny moments) — but the bond between the sisters is what makes this film one I watch once a year. It’s one of a rare kind of female-centric film that depicts positive sister relationships and the depth of that connection. Despite the distance that separates them and the differences that make them the individual women they are, Sally and Gillian retain their close sisterhood. Even when one of them gets a little possessed…

Honestly, the cast pedigree is nothing to sneeze at here. Bullock and Kidman would eventually win Oscars for later work; Wiest already had a couple at this point. Character Actress Margo Martindale would go on to win Emmys for supporting roles on critical-darling TV shows. Stockard Channing is an Emmy winner and Oscar nominee, as well. And let’s not forget young Evan Rachel Wood and Camilla Belle playing child roles in the movie.

Folks of a certain age nostalgically celebrate Hocus Pocus around Halloween-time, but Practical Magic is the 1990s film about witches closest to my heart. I can’t help it if I tend to sigh as Bullock and Quinn’s characters make out on a bed covered with evidence, or wipe a tear as Sally tries to save her sister. Practical Magic is a classic, and it gets better (albeit, a little sillier) with age.

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