Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Adapted from the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Why are you interested in this adaptation?
Oh, man, so many reasons. Probably mostly because it looks like it will be epic to make fun of, and Rachel and I have been stymied on all attempts to find anything to truly laugh at since Twilight Part Call Me, Lee Pace. So here we finally find the same genre (young adult paranormal romance) and questionable effects just from the previews (though at least no one sparkles) and the same sort of overblown life or death or end of the world! theme except, oh wait, it’s just a shitty small town no one gives a shit about where nothing ever happens. Beyond the mockery fodder, I can’t lie, it looks like it might be sort of interesting to the teenage Elena who still comes out sometimes. I mean, it’s Southern Gothic, about some kid who hates living in a small town and wants to leave. I can totally relate to that! And Emma Thompson is in it. She can be relied upon to either lend appropriate gravitas or be the best part of the wackiness. The only actress I’d be more excited about seeing in an adult role here is Helena Bonham Carter.
So, if I’m being honest, I expect this to be terrible but in a way that actually kind of appeals to me. There. I said it. I’d rather watch Southern Gothic witch drama this month than zombie romance.
I’m coming at this from a different place. I actually sat through the Beautiful Creatures panel at NYCC last fall and let me tell you, it was a train wreck. Sandwiched between a bunch of horror panels and before The Walking Dead, the audience was not into it. (Except for this one guy who yelled out, “I LOVE YOU EMMY!” every 2 minutes. We all hated him.) The cast was pretty lackluster in their answers. They didn’t seem very chummy or excited about the film they had made. Only Emmy Rossum seemed to have read all the books. But I had a friend with me who had read the books and said I should read them before judging the film. I figured it would probably be best to read the book because the trailer had already established this as a film full of one of my biggest pet peeves – totally inaccurate southern accents.
And that is what I have tried to do, dear readers. I read the damn book. It was awful. IT WAS SO AWFUL. Full disclosure – I am also coming at this film from the perspective of a girl who went to high school in South Carolina. I can’t even begin to eviscerate the novel for all the stereotypes it reinforces. I think it fancies itself some kind of To Kill a Mockingbird homage, except that’s like calling a dump I took an homage to Moby Dick.
I am interested in this movie because I want to know why that guy from NYCC loves Emmy Rossum so much.
Ooh, ooh, I can answer that one! Emmy Rossum is slowly revealing herself as an actual nerd with a string of well-chosen (er…mostly well-chosen) roles in SF/Fantasy movies. You don’t take roles in multiple adaptations of time-travel stories without being somewhat of a genre fan.
What will make it suck?
Uh…if the effects in the commercial weren’t just whipped up before post-production to advertise, and are actually what the film looks like. If there are terrible Southern accents everywhere. If it presents a totally false sense of how important the events are in the scheme of the world. If what drives someone in this family to the dark side is as lame as what Lucas tried to tell us drove Anakin.
Basically…if it moves. I mean, come on. You’ve seen the trailer, right? How can it not?
I think my eyes looking at it will make it suck. You guys, the accents alone should be a red alert for you. But I know that there are lots of book fans excited about this film, and so I will try to approach the film with that in mind.
It will suck if they leave out Boo Radley the dog. Or Ethan’s weirdo aunts. Or all the obviously unresolved issues Ethan has with his mother.
What will make it awesome?
This movie might actually be awesome if it captures the sort of over-dramatic gothy impossible love story well. I am a sucker for a good forbidden love, and I don’t necessarily mind intentionally overblown plot elements if the whole is something that resonates with me and looks good en totale. I mean…it’s witches in a swamp who tromp around in ball gowns and too much eyeliner. I am not sure I need to explain further why it has potential.
Despite the accents the movie COULD get HS in SC right. It has a chance of resonating with me since I, too, was the weird new girl once. I hope they go for some quip-y humor and not take itself as seriously as the book. We’re dealing with really dramatic, obvious storylines and super powers and pretty much every witch cliché you’ve seen on the Vampire Diaries plus some voodoo. It could be cray.
Additional thoughts on casting/production?
Honestly? The adults here are what really made me want to see this movie. I’m not sure that Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Viola Davis can make something truly awful even if they try.
I don’t recognize any of the teenagers, which is probably a good thing.
I know it was filmed in Louisiana, in part around New Orleans, so that always offers me a fun game of Name That Plantation.
I have not read the book yet, though I did download a Kindle copy to read. I thought about starting it (or finishing it) before going to see the movie, but then I thought…no. I’m going to see what the movie does on its own two feet, and save the book to read after to see if it is (1) any better as a story than what the movie presents to me and (2) see if it explains things better than the movie does, if I am left with questions after I walk out of the theater. Unless, of course, I hate everything about the movie, in which case, I dunno, maybe I will return it with a “did not mean to purchase” excuse.
WHY are all these people in this film? Jeremy Irons? Emma Thompson? Viola Davis? I don’t…? Why would…? Huh? Did they lose a bet? Did they sign papers while drunk at the Golden Globes? DOES ANYONE KNOW? Even Emmy Rossum in a relatively bit part doesn’t make any freaking sense to me!
Reaction to film?
Pretty much exactly what I expected. The teenagers cleaning up the theater as I walked out asked me if I liked it, and that was what I said. “Did you read the book?” “Nope.” They were in the midst of exclaiming how retarded it is to see the movie without reading the book first when I went through the doors. Well, kids, it’s like this…when you get older, and your life is a little busier, sometimes you prefer to get a sense of the material with only two hours of your life wasted as opposed to the six or eight (or twenty, if it’s GRRM) it would take to read the book. Also, sometimes you just want to take the film as its own entity. You know, like film critics do.
So, checklist: Effects – obvious CG. Filming – not creative. Editing – nothing to notice, therefore shitty by way of being merely serviceable in a film whose cinematography is merely serviceable. Storyboarding – inefficient. How the F was the movie 3 hours? (Was it 3? Or did it just feel like it?) Setting – not a bad depiction of the South, although it felt more like Louisiana than SC…. Acting – way better than Twilight, so that might count as a positive. Concept – as engaging as I expected, which is to say, I was hooked. I just wish the overall experience lived up to it. Story – kind of confusing and unexplained and full of coincidences that made all of it feel sort of half-cocked.
That said, nuts and bolts.
Can we get this out of the way first: What. The. Fuck. Was. Up. With. The. Accents. Oh my God. Rachel told me she didn’t hear an authentic SC swamp drawl among them. Was…there an authentic Southern accent among them? I did enjoy Jeremy Irons pronouncing Lena like it was a shortening of my name, with the long A; that felt…legit. At the very least it was a truly unexpected affectation, and his character was such a creature of affectation that it worked for me. Otherwise, it felt like they were all over the map with every character having a different sound, which maybe made sense for Lena’s family but not really for the townfolk. The main guy? Jesus Christ. He sounded like he was half-retarded.
Also am I the only one who didn’t find him all that cute? Like…I sort of think I know what they were going for, that young Johnny Depp broody cheekbone look, but it didn’t work for me. His friend was 10x hotter and cooler and funnier. So it was either really terrible casting decision or really brilliant casting. I mean, does the weird Goth chick who moves into town *actually* go for that guy as he was cast if it’s not destiny?
And by the way…why was every person in their class good-looking? Y’all. Have ya been to the rural South? NEVER HAPPENS.
Speaking of the townfolk…HAVE EITHER OF THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE THIS BOOK (OR MAYBE JUST THIS SCRIPT) EVER BEEN TO THE RURAL SOUTH? This felt soooooooooooooooo coastal projection of what they think small Southern towns are like. The depiction here felt beyond over the top. Like the town and everyone in it was a plot device, not an actual peek into what a town like that really is. (If you want one, by the way, go watch Bernie.) Although this set-up DID feel remarkably similar to what Rachel said happened to her when she moved south of the MD. IS THIS HOW IT HAPPENED, RACHEL? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU NEED TO TELL ME?
Okay, story. So she and the boy are fated to meet and fall in love? Why then was his mother BFF’s with her black-magic uncle? And his mother’s BFF just happens to be the librarian for the witches? I mean, I guess those family connections explain his ability to just take that kind of discovery in stride, but unless the connection between her uncle and his mother had something to do with why she and he were so drawn to each other, it’s kind of an uncomfortable coincidence.
It was also a total cop-out on the part of the authors for her to not be claimed for one side or the other after that being set up as a fundamental rule of the world. Unless the curse itself was why the family members got claimed for one side or the other, but if that was the case that causation was really poorly drawn. But for her to just be like “oh, hey, yeah, I’m not gonna do that” is kind of ridiculous. Don’t we think other family members have tried that? Don’t we think every person has a measure of both light and dark in their hearts, such that very few people could ever be claimed for one side or the other? I can’t believe everyone in her family was so polarized that she was the first who fought a claim. Also, her uncle proved that dark doesn’t mean evil, since he was obviously principled and loving and spent his time hanging out with the light side of the family.
I also didn’t get much sense of the actual natures of the light and dark here. I kind of got the impression that “dark” was more chaos than evil? It seemed like when she was going “dark” it was letting her anger rule her (cough * Star Wars * cough) and acting on it, but, come on. Anger is not intrinsically evil. You can have a righteous anger. I would have liked a better explanation about what was actually involved in being light or being dark. All I got was that light meant throwing boring dinner parties and dark meant killing cops running speed traps. (And the problem is…?)
Speaking of Star Wars – “Lena, I am your mother” = bahahahahahaha.
Speaking of cop-outs…all that had to happen to break the curse was someone she loved had to die? I…am not sure that’s really how magic and curses work. Seems more like it would need to be a mortal lover who died and didn’t get resurrected in order to complete that loop, you know?
Overall this movie just kind of made me grumpy. I was engaged by the set-up against my will (damn those Romeo & Juliet stories), once I got over the hero’s speech impediment and the shitty effects, so I really hoped the story would make up for those deficiencies. I wanted it to Exceed Expectations. This movie (and the story) did not achieve an E. It didn’t even get an O. Such a missed opportunity. But at least there were no vampires. Or zombies.
Confession. I watched this movie hammered.
I brought some good ol’ South Carolina Firefly sweet tea vodka.
OMG that shit’s the bessssssssssst
Figured I would drink whenever I had the urge to roll my eyes out of my head. I was done with that halfway through the film.
Bless my drunk little heart.
For one – WHY did Ethan sound like Forrest Gump? WHY? It. Was. Distracting. Is that the best southern accent that poor boy could do? Not to mention every other cast member was doing their best (but sadly terrible) Texan or Alabama drawl. Not even a Georgia accent was heard! Emma Thompson might have come closest (and I, too, appreciated Jeremy Iron’s, “Leeeyyna”) but dayuuum. Not a person involved with the dialect coaching (ok, fess up. There wasn’t a dialect coach) even bothered to Google the Accent tags on Youtube for Christ’s sake!
When I wasn’t twitching at all the terrible accents, I was bothered by the way this whole Confederate/Civil War/ Black people in service positions shit was going down. I had a huge issue with this in the novel, as well. Pretty much the only “educated” black person in the novel is a character that they cut out of the movie (and merged with Amma the housekeeper). But even that character was a woman without much power of her own who was bound to serve anyone who asked (she was the librarian and research partner of Ethan’s mother. Who despite being described as dressing like a Professor spent all her time alone, being crazy at the Gatlin Library).
Correction. She is not the only educated black person; she is the only black person in town other than Ammie. At least the movie tried to put more in at school. Again…have you been to the South?….
Then there’s this total appropriation of the Gullah people in the character of Amma, who raised all the Wate boys, cooked their breakfasts, did their laundry and sometimes performed voodoo rituals in the swamp with no shirt on while old crusty white plantation owners yelled at them.
ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME.???????
Yes. There are people that do Civil War reenactments. Yes, there are plantation tours. Yes, there are even white people who still have black nannies. But the responsible way of using these details in your YA paranormal romance novel is to not just relegate issues of social justice, slavery and the highly contentious subject of the Civil War as tropes to further your sad, special snowflake characters towards their inevitable (or not) copulation.
I’m just…argh. There are A LOT of things about the South that I hated (thus my current residence of NYC), but there are some great things. The hypocrisy and duality of the Confederate South is the most interesting part. These authors, whose educations should frankly have prevented them from participating in such rank cliché, have done nothing to give the place that their story lives in any character at all. If you can’t make a place a pivotal character in your story…you should start over. The filmmakers tried. Oh, did they try. They used New Orleans as the best swampy, Savannah-like recreation of a town outside Charleston that they could, but I think there was more character in the inaccurate as hell flashbacks.
What an exercise is self-torture was reading this book and then watching the movie. Sorry guys, I tried. But that there… that was crap.
And now the part wherein Elena and Rachel talk themselves out of liking it even a little bit in a series of chats:
Rachel: what am i doing?
Elena: existentially? or literally
Rachel: Gatlin sucks. lets burn it down
Elena: yes. Please. the sign fire accidentally took out the whole town of implausibly restored mansions. oops
BURN IT OFF THE MAP
MY ENEMIES LIE IN ASHES
Rachel: Team Sherman
Elena: also i love how they thought plantations were like, right next to each other
Rachel: omg that is so annoying. Like houses in the suburbs!
Elena: some of them where long and narrow but most of the time, the neighbor’s a mile or two away. there is no running from house to house watching them all burn!
Rachel: It’s like they forgot about the plantation part they think it’s just a style of house
Elena: especially not in fucking hoop skirts
Rachel super small town SC is hell. and it certainly doesnt have any freaking colonial mansions and an unused library and a halfway decent school and a population rich enough to do elaborate town wide battle recreations for tourists. blegh.
On the voodoo thing:
Elena: the more i think about the voodoo thing, the more i think THEY think it’s like…a folklore thing. like it doesn’t really exist and maybe never really did.
Rachel: Oh yes. That shit was just.. insulting to voodoo in general. And Gullah people in particular. am i being a weird white person about all the voodoo service characters and their deeply held love for their oppressors/employers?
Elena: i too am really bothered by the voodoo thing. mostly bc any self-respecting Voudon priestess has way better things to do than clean up after idiot white people.
Elena: i kind of want to go off on a rant about how giving your kids ALL the information is the best way to keep them from doing stupid shit that you otherwise have to kill yourself to keep from being a disaster. like, kids aren’t stupid. give them info and expect them to be responsible, and most of em will be. those that aren’t, well, that’s what the darwin awards are for.
Rachel: i was super annoyed pretty much all the time while reading the book. all the characters were.. actively passive? they knew shit was stupid and lame but they just let it happen… for no discernible reason other than the authors wanted it that way.
Elena: what did we learn from mythology? prophecies only become fulfilled when you try to hide them. oedipus would never have done what he did if his foster father was like “son, you aren’t my real son. there’s some crazy prophecy about you killing your father and marrying your own mother, so why don’t we do this: set you up with a nice younger woman whose birth age we can verify, and you just kick it here with us and take over my throne when i die of natural causes. Deal?” Aaand the prophecy is thusly avoided.
Rachel: oh yea. the whole “we didnt tell you all this incredibly relevant information for your own good” shit is NEVER GOOD. its always just evidence of a bad book. look at buffy (perfect example that she is). giles keeps the whole “the master will kill you” prophecy from her. shit.. does not get done. she finds out. is emotionally scarred and hurt and betrayed. but hey.. ya know what else that KNOWLEDGE helps her do? KILL THE FUCKING MASTER.
Team Eve, bitches. Adam can go die.
On comparing the book to the film:
Rachel: im thinking the film ending.. was dumb?
Elena: um, god. in comparison to the book the whole erasing his memory made no sense. it was all about making her more likeable as a character
Rachel: it made all this nonsense about the claiming make even less sense than it did in the book
Elena: bc in the book, her angsty teen “even though this totally cost my greatx3 mother her soul it will work for me!” was retarded. it was a little more clear in the book that the no-choice claiming was because of the curse which i am not sure they really lifted?
so i can’t see how the movie sequels (if there are any) don’t diverge wildly
Rachel: yea my friend that has read the entire series said that the film ending basically makes it impossible to continue the series. which i assume revolves around the curse and ethan’s mother’s involvement with these casters. and what happened to seraphine
Rachel: they really sat down and wrote cheasy YA tropes down on pieces of paper
Rachel: and drew them from a hat whenever they got bored
me: over lunch, no less. i guess they took the same farland course stephenie meyer did, about how to write the best selling YA book ever
whiny self absorbed heroine!
abercrombie model hero!
did we say impossible? we meant you die if you have sex
Rachel: as for the movie – i keep picturing emma thompson flouncing around in her ruffles doing that weirdly young sounding american accent. FREAAAAK. love her. she was drunk, right?