There’s been a wave of Twitter chats recently around favourite bad films (Kong: Skull Island), unpopular opinions (The Lion King is mediocre animal Hamlet with mostly bad tunes) and the like. It’s a great platform for the random and reactionary. But one film kept bafflingly coming up as a “guilty pleasure” with astonishing regularity: Practical Magic.
Now, we all know why that is. We know that it doesn’t actually matter on any level whether it’s a good romantic comedy or not (it is), if the script is smart (mostly), the performances are on point (yup) or the structure makes sense (eh, more or less). What matters is that it’s a women’s film, and we can easily dismiss womeny things that men couldn’t possibly be interested in like love and magic and, um, being beaten and strangled by your insane abusive ex. Actually, it really is a women’s film.
Practical Magic is the best examination of womanhood and patriarchy that ever masqueraded as a fuzzy love story. It starts with a botched hanging and a ruined woman’s curse and takes a left turn through young widowhood, manslaughter and demonic possession. Through all of it is the constant support that women offer other women. It’s the sister who drives through the night to hold your hand, tell you stories and remind you that your breath stinks so you can maybe, eventually get out of bed. And it’s her in return racing to collect you and soothe your bruises; it’s her knowing where the bodies are buried. It’s the in-jokes and rituals and thousand little hurts that only bind you closer together.
And when the ghost of a terrible relationship literally won’t let you go, it’s the sister who rallies the crowd, won’t let go and puts blood, sweat and tears into saving your soul from darkness.
It’s not faultless; what film is? If I had to pick a feminist hole, it would be in the portrayal of Gillian whose own, deeply sexual power isn’t exactly blamed for the disaster she finds herself in, but is definitely cast in an unflattering light next to the repressed spark of Sally’s more pure magic. The hint that she’s slowly passing into a boho wyrd sister role with the elder aunts is a little irritating; but since they still indulge in midnight margaritas, naked dancing under the moon and bird-stabbing love life magic, it’s not exactly a peaceful retirement. Like Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, Gillian and Sally are at their best when they accept themselves as they are, instead of – respectively – as they dream of being or as they think they should be.
There’s nothing to feel guilty about in loving a film that appeals to the power of the female collective to heal hearts broken by relationships with men. Whether it’s a beautiful relationship doomed by death before its time or a deeply unbalanced one riven with male violence, the balm in the end is the fellowship of other women.
Indeed, even if it were as fluffy as the Faith Hill banger that accompanies it, you can jettison any thoughts that this makes it unworthy of your time and attention. Even if it’s the most womany thing of all the womany things – especially if it is, in fact – you can like what you like without feeling the need to justify it.
Unless it’s I Just Can’t Wait To Be King.