Wayback Wednesday: Practical Magic (1998)

This entire movie is very much my aesthetic.

This Halloween season, seemingly more so than ever before, my family and I are really embracing seasonal movies. Together we’ve watched classic horrors like Dracula (1931) and The Exorcist (1973) as well as funny frights like An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Witches (1990). Watching seasonally spooky movies is just one of the many reasons why I’m not only an enormous fan of Halloween but Autumn as a whole. Perhaps no movie better captures the spirit of the season than the underrated and utterly bewitching, Practical Magic (1998). Seriously, this wonderfully witchy movie is like a Pinterest board for the month of October. And I love it! Spookiness, silliness AND Sandra Bullock? We have no choice but to stan.

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 10.57.48 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Warner Bros. / Roadshow Entertainment

Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic follows Sally and Gillian Owens, two very close but very different sisters who come from a family of witches. Though they’re skilled in casting spells and mixing potions, nothing can prevent the curse on their family: any man who falls in love with an Owens woman is destined to die an untimely death. When reckless Gillian gets herself into trouble, she turns to level-headed Sally for help and together the sisters protect their family from a supernatural threat.

Oh wow, do I love watching this movie every October. A seasonally fun tale, this romantic comedy fantasy is the perfect intersection between genuine scares and campy fun. I mean,what other movie features resurrecting the ghost an abusive ex-boyfriend in one scene and then having a midnight margarita dance party in the next? By the way, I’m always down for a midnight margarita party should anyone be inclined to throw one. If you were an artsy kid who felt particularly witchy and had a thing for rom-coms, there’s a high chance you strongly resonated with this movie. And am I the last to discover that Griffin Dunne of all people is the director? Granted, I don’t know much about Dunne, but I was still flabbergasted when I saw his name in the credits under “directed by.” I went to myself, “oh, like THE Griffin Dunne? Cool, he gets it!” He gets how to craft a thoroughly engaging, heartwarming story that is chock-full of  witchcraft, sisterly bonds, and overall 90s excellence. I’m a fan of basically every movie I’ve seen about witches. It’s a subject I find endlessly fascinating. But what I think makes Practical Magic so lovable is that it’s the story of two good witches, a perspective not often seen. 

Let’s talk about those good witches, shall we? I’m extremely aware that I’m guilty of overusing the phrase, “this cast is everything,” but you guys, this cast is EVERYTHING! Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing? This is a coven that I would absolutely join in a heartbeat. I want to be a part of this witch family and play with little black cats and wear fabulous hats and live in the greatest house of all time. Trust me, we’ll talk about it. And of course, I’m in desperate need of sassy aunts who will enforce the aforementioned margarita nights. Quirky, loving, and all-knowing, as Bridget and Frances, Wiest and Channing play the type of kooky aunts every child fantasizes about growing up with. Their roles are subtle and somewhat brief, but the star power radiating from these two legendary ladies is so great that it’s always compelled me to name them as two of my favourite parts of the movie. Y’know, it wasn’t until just now that I realized Dianne Wiest is the actress who appears most frequently in my Wayback reviews! By the way, you can check out my reviews for Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Birdcage (1996) and Dan in Real Life (2007) here, here and here.

I’ve loved Sandra Bullock since I was a little kid and watched Miss Congeniality (2000) every time I visited my grandma. Her effortless charm, impeccable comedic timing and legit acting skills are all reasons why I count Miss Congeniality among my favourites, as well as what make Bullock such an intriguing part of Practical Magic. As the strait-laced Sally, Bullock is arguably the movie’s biggest scene-stealer. A delight to watch, she brings such humour and life to the stern Sally. Bullock plays the dramatic side of her character just as well as the comedic and you really feel for her throughout the movie. I was genuinely heartbroken when her husband Michael fell victim to the Owens Curse. Although, Michael is cute and everything, but you’re lying to yourself if you’re not rooting for Sally and Gary the detective. Their romantic chemistry is off the charts and totally “awww-worthy.” As the wild Gillian, Kidman matches Bullock’s charisma and talent perfectly. The most enjoyable part of Kidman’s performance is seeing how Gillian is the antithesis to the rule-abiding Sally. There’s a healthy amount of comparison and contrast between the two sisters, ensuring any scene they share is guaranteed to spark your interest. The movie is at its best when Bullock and Kidman exchange cutting digs or loving words, demonstrating a sisterly dynamic that feels like they really did grow up in the same house.

As I’ve mentioned, Practical Magic encompasses a lot of genres. The movie easily shifts from comedy, to romance, to drama and even briefly into horror. It never strays too far into the latter but I’ll admit, the demonic version of Jimmy, Gillian’s ex-boyfriend, always used to seriously freak me out. Even when Gillian gets possessed, I remember being thoroughly unnerved by Kidman’s haunting performance. She really is a remarkable actress. Remember when she was in Paddington (2014) and just slayed the scene giving you camp and spook? Maybe she recalled her Practical Magic days to get into character.

Exorcising evil Jimmy takes up much of the movie’s third act and you know what? I honestly could have done without it. Sure, it adds a touch of supernatural fright, but the characters, costumes and set are so on point and so fun that I could have happily watched an entire movie of the Owens women just living their everyday lives in town. There’s an aura of comfort to Practical Magic that seeps into every scene. I don’t know if it’s the Autumn tones, small town charm or the familial love, but there’s something about this movie that just makes you want to never leave the world it creates. Definitely put on an oversized sweater, make some hot chocolate and watch it with your mom. Movies that invoke that kind of serene enjoyment are rarely made these days in lieu of franchise-starters and that really bums me out. The world needs more Practical Magic. Movies that aren’t afraid to be irreverent, off-beat and most importantly, brimming with childlike fun without trying to sell toys.

Okay, so are you ready to talk about undoubtedly the best part of Practical Magic? The. Fucking, House. Oh my God, this house is INCREDIBLE. Apparently it’s partially a set but I don’t care. If I could movie into this house tomorrow and spend the rest of my days living as a reclusive witchy writer, I 100 per cent would. I’m not an architect or a realtor so I can’t explain why it’s technically a great house, but come on: Just look at it! It has sprawling land, a rustic yet elegant exterior and an interior that practically crackles with magic and warmth to name just a few features. This is probably saying a lot about me as a person, but nine times out of 10, I want to movie into the house in a scary movie. I can’t help it! What can I say? I guess I just have a thing for creepy manor houses that look like they’re undoubtedly haunted.

Screen Shot 2019-10-13 at 11.34.57 PM
Credit: hookedonhouses.net / Warner Bros. / Roadshow Entertainment

Practical Magic may just be my favourite movie about witches. It checks every box I can think of and to this day, remains an undisputed staple in my house every October. With each new viewing I find myself discovering yet another reason to sing its praises: A soundtrack that includes Stevie Nicks and Faith Hill! The short but sweet inclusion of Margo Martindale! Every single one of Sandra Bullock’s outfits! If you’re looking to get into the Halloween spirit but still sleep soundly at night, than you’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect movie than Practical Magic. Falling under a movie’s spell has never been easier.

Do you like Practical Magic? Would you move into the house too?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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