David Stratton on the de­lights of Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - David Stratton

THE Twi­light fran­chise, af­ter a rea­son­ably promis­ing start, ground in­ex­orably to an in­glo­ri­ous con­clu­sion last year, so why cel­e­brate what ap­pears to be an at­tempt to cre­ate a sim­i­lar fran­chise?

Be­cause, hap­pily, Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures, de­spite the lim­i­ta­tions in­her­ent in its ba­sic plot — ro­mance be­tween a su­per­nat­u­ral crea­ture and a mor­tal — is not only head and shoul­ders above the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor ap­proach of the Twi­light films but her­alds the ar­rival of an ex­cit­ing new an­tipodean ac­tress, Alice En­glert, daugh­ter of di­rec­tor Jane Cam­pion.

This is the third fea­ture En­glert has made in the past year, but the first to reach Aus­tralia (her first, Gin­ger & Rosa, a Bri­tish film by Sally Pot­ter, has opened overseas but hasn’t yet been seen in this coun­try). In Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures, En­glert brings a re­fresh­ing hu­mour, depth and pathos to the char­ac­ter of Lena Duchannes, a 15-year-old who ar­rives in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina, to live with her un­cle, Ma­con Raven­wood (Jeremy Irons).

Be­fore Lena’s ar­rival in town, we’ve been pre­sented with an in­tro­duc­tion to life in Gatlin by Ethan Wate (Alden Ehren­re­ich), who is just start­ing his ju­nior year of high school. Ethan is a fish out of water in Gatlin, a town boast­ing 12 churches and a li­brary with a list of banned books. Th­ese in­clude Kurt Von­negut’s Slaugh­ter­house-Five, which Ethan is read­ing, and as the cam­era pans around his bed­room we see other lit­er­ary and cin­e­matic in­flu­ences in­clude A Clock­work Or­ange and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Can­cer. This is clearly a young man who craves the wider world es­pe­cially, as he com­plains, as the near­est Star­bucks is in far-off Charleston (‘‘How sick is that?’’) and the lo­cal cin­ema plays movies only af­ter they’re out on DVD. Gatlin is no place for a bright young man to be grow­ing up in with­out a mother, who died some time ear­lier, and with a fa­ther so reclu­sive we never see him. The only in­flu­ence on Ethan seems to be Amma (Vi­ola Davis), whose role in the house­hold is am­bigu­ous.

Ethan’s girl­friend, Emily (Zoey Deutch), like most of the pop­u­la­tion of Gatlin, is ex­tremely re­li­gious; she’s al­ready miffed that Ethan has been avoid­ing her through the sum­mer and she takes out her frus­tra­tion on Lena, the new girl who is ‘‘ dif­fer­ent’’.

Ethan, how­ever, is smit­ten with Lena be­cause she reads books even he hasn’t dis­cov­ered yet (by Charles Bukowski, for ex­am­ple). Be­fore long they’re so ob­vi­ously at­tracted to one an­other that Emily’s jeal­ousy can’t be hid­den. ‘‘ I pray you go straight to hell,’’ she tells Ethan, who re­sponds: ‘‘ I’m go­ing to stop in New York first.’’

So, de­spite the ba­sic sim­i­lar­i­ties with the Twi­light films, Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures proves sur­pris­ingly lit­er­ate and witty. It was writ­ten

and di­rected by Richard LaGrave­nese, whose screen­play for The Fisher King was a model of its kind, and even as it at­tempts to skirt hor­ror-ro­mance cliches it man­ages to charm — I es­pe­cially liked be­ing in­formed that the

‘‘ cast­ers’’, as th­ese witches pre­fer to be called, used to be based in Washington, DC, but were thrown out by Nancy Rea­gan, ‘‘ the only mor­tal they were ever scared of’’.

I pre­sume this is the first film in a new fran­chise and I just hope it con­tin­ues to be as sprightly. There are al­ready some signs of flat­u­lence (at just more than two hours, the film is too long), but I hope the se­ries never takes it­self too se­ri­ously. The plot in the ini­tial episode hinges on whether Lena will be­come a

‘‘ dark’’ caster — like her scan­dalous cousin Ri­d­ley (Emmy Ros­sum) and like her mother, Sarafine, who spends much of the film oc­cu­py­ing the body of the God-both­er­ing Mrs Lin­coln (Emma Thompson) — or a ‘‘ light’’ (and thus mor­tal-friendly) one.

Hand­somely pho­tographed and de­signed, with some spar­ingly used but very strik­ing vis­ual ef­fects, Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures may al­most be good enough to at­tract movie-go­ers who don’t like fan­tasy films. At the very least the young ac­tors, and es­pe­cially En­glert, are worth check­ing out.

SAFE Haven, which opened across the coun­try on Valen­tine’s Day, is based on a book by Ni­cholas Sparks. That in­for­ma­tion alone tells you what to ex­pect: safe’’ is cer­tainly the

‘‘ ‘‘ right word. Life is full of sec­ond chances,’’ pro­claims one of the characters with heavy em­pha­sis and that, pre­sum­ably, is Sparks’s mantra. There’s noth­ing very new here — last year’s The Lucky One fea­tured a hand­some stranger in a small town get­ting in­volved with a beau­ti­ful widow and her son, and Safe Haven has a beau­ti­ful stranger in town (not the same town, though it could eas­ily be) get­ting in­volved with a hand­some wid­ower and his two ever-so-cute chil­dren. No one else could have writ­ten this.

In an at­tempt, not very suc­cess­ful, to be edgier this time around the hero­ine, Katie (Ju­lianne Hough), is first seen flee­ing Bos­ton in the rain af­ter a barely glimpsed in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a knife and blood. A Bos­ton cop (David Lyons) is de­ter­mined to track her down, but loses her af­ter she boards a bus for At­lanta and gets off at a pic­turesque sea­side town­ship in North Carolina (prob­a­bly not all that far from Gatlin). Here she rents a cot­tage in the woods (de­spite a hole in the floor, it is be­yond cute) and eas­ily gets a job as a wait­ress in the lo­cal diner. And here she meets gor­geous Alex (Josh Duhamel), whose wife died re­cently of can­cer and who is rear­ing a pair of pre­co­cious young­sters.

There are no prizes for guess­ing where this re­la­tion­ship is go­ing, though the film takes its time to get there. How­ever, there are a cou­ple of twists which, of course, I won’t re­veal, and they add a slight fris­son to the pro­ceed­ings. There’s also Jo (Co­bie Smul­ders), an at­trac­tive woman who, like Katie, lives in the woods; I thought at first Sparks was ven­tur­ing into les­bian ter­ri­tory with this char­ac­ter, but it proved not to be the case.

So while Katie and Alex get to know one an­other — a day at the beach, a trip in a ca­noe that is mys­te­ri­ously aban­doned the moment it starts to rain — the Bos­ton cop doggedly con­tin­ues his in­ves­ti­ga­tions and gets ever closer. The big ques­tion is: Will the lovers get to bed be­fore the cop tracks Katie down?

This sort of thing is de­signed to a for­mula solely to pro­vide a few easy, feel-good vibes, and it cer­tainly doesn’t in any way tax the ac­tors in­volved who, as usual in Sparks’s films, are beau­ti­ful (once upon a time, in The

Note­book, su­pe­rior ac­tors such as Ryan Gosling and Rachel McA­dams were in­volved). Swedish-born di­rec­tor Lasse Hall­strom could do this sort of thing with his eyes shut, and he makes it all seem fairly ef­fort­less with­out in any way dis­guis­ing its in­her­ent bland­ness. Fans won’t be dis­ap­pointed, but Safe Haven re­mains the kind of in­stantly for­get­table film that is of­fered to the ro­man­ti­cally in­clined at this time of the year.

Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures

Left, Ju­lianne Hough and Josh Duhamel in Safe Haven; above, Alice En­glert as Lena in

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.