Beware, gentle readers, for there is a disease among us that is going
unchecked. The disorder plaguing our society is called Sandra Bullock
Syndrome. Victims of this nightmarish ailment spend great amounts of time
whimpering while staring wistfully into the distance and periodically
experience outbursts of uncontrollable lip synching and dancing to pop
music oldies, generally in the company of others suffering from the same
illness. Somebody please, organize a telethon now!
Sandra Bullock Syndrome, last seen in the film "Hope Floats," resurfaces
in "Practical Magic," an occassionally entertaining, often silly and
terribly disjointed romantic fantasy based on the book by Alice Hoffman.
The story tells of sisters Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and
Nicole Kidman), the latest in a long line of witches. Raised in a
picturesque New England town by their giddy aunts, Jet and Frances
(Dianne Weist and Stockard Channing), the girls learn of the family
curse: anytime an Owens woman falls in love with a man, he dies.
After losing her husband to the curse, Sally adopts a quiet, withdrawn
lifestyle, while Gillian moves from one Bohemian setting to another,
having fleeting affairs along the way. When a boyfriend turns abusive,
Gillian calls her sister for help and the woman unintentionally kill the
man. Fearing legal reprisals, they decide the only logical thing to do is
raise the creep from the dead. When Officer Gary Hallet's (Aidan Quinn)
investigation brings him to the Owens' house, all hell breaks loose.
Parts of "Practical Magic" work. When Nicole Kidman looks at the corpse
of her boyfriend and says, "Okay Jimmy, I will get you out of this, but
then we are definitely breaking up," it's impossible not to smile.
Towards the end of the film, a neighborhood phone tree is used in a
unique fashion that is both ingenuous and entertaining. And, as
outlandishly dressed old biddies, Stockard Channing and Dianne Weist have
a certain loosey-goosey appeal.
But the production has no consistent tone, shifting awkwardly from one
style to another. At times an occult "Thelma and Louise," the film also
tries to be a spirited comedy, a horror film, a heartfelt romance and a
story of empowerment. In more skilled hands the mixture might have jelled,
but here it just feels disjointed. Even more annoying are the numerous
MTV moments, where pop songs swell as the action turns into mini-music
videos. And, of course, there's the scene where the women joyously line
dance around the room, lip synching to the oldies. Oh, the agony of
Sandra Bullock Syndrome.
Examining films like this on a logical basis is generally ill-advised,
but I have to wonder why, if the Owens women have been reviled by the
townspeople for centuries, they didn't just pack up and move. And
speaking of the townspeople, it's maddening to watch their attitudes
radically shift to meet the needs of the contrived script. At times they
show open fear and hatred for the women, at other times they treat them
as average fellow citizens, and later, they embrace the women's
witchcraft without reservation. Why? Because one of the screenplay
authors also wrote "Batman and Robin," that's why.
"Practical Magic" has enough good moments to warrant a viewing on cable,
or if you're on a long airplane flight, but otherwise, you'd be better
served by watching virtually any episode of "Bewitched." At least there
you wouldn't be subjected to the tragic results of Sandra Bullock
Syndrome. Hopefully, medical science will eventually come up with a cure
and talented female actors will never have to sulk, lip-sync or line
dance ever again.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott