BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (M) (124 min)
Directed by Richard LaGravenese. Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson.
It is possible that I enjoyed Beautiful Creatures a great deal more than the film actually deserves. After half a decade of sitting through the insufferable Twilight franchise, really the last thing I wanted was to be subjected to the first instalment of what is promised to be ''the next Twilight''. So I kind of trudged into Beautiful Creatures in that way that people trudge into the dentist's surgery: I don't want to be here, but it is necessary, and it'll all be over in an hour or two.
And then, the oddest thing happened. Up on screen, a watchable and enjoyable film began to play out.
Beautiful Creatures, though it might be touted as not much more than a shameless Twilight cash-in, is - as far as I'm concerned - superior in every possible way.
In small-town South Carolina, a couple of high school students meet and fall in love. Only trouble is, she's a witch, and she's about to face the biggest day of her life. On her 16th birthday, Lena will be chosen to represent either the dark or the light side of witchery. If it's the former, then she's in for a life of deceit and cruelty. If it's the latter, then Lena might just be the saviour of the world. Or something. But whichever way it goes, there is no room in Lena's life for the normal, mortal, but drop-dead adorable young Ethan. But, teenage love is one of the universe's more implacable forces, and so Ethan and Lena fly in the face of her family, and persist with their relationship.
So far, so what? Put like that, Beautiful Creatures sounds pretty bloody awful. But, god is in the details, and this film - and, I suspect, the novel it is based on - get the details refreshingly right. Firstly, Lena is in charge. She carries the responsibility, she makes the decisions, and she solves the problems. The relief after Twilight's moping nonentity of a female lead could not be more acute.
Secondly, these kids talk in a way that sounded to me like fairly authentic dialogue. A conversation early on about banned books and moral censorship in America today struck me as subversive and timely. And any film that's quoting Bukowski and invoking Kurt Vonnegut in its first 10 minutes is always going to score some very non-objective brownie points from me.
Mix those sort of agreeable smarts with some excellent casting - young leads Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert (daughter of Jane Campion) are both very good, while Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson are both clearly enjoying camping and vamping it up in the grown-up support roles - and Beautiful Creatures turns out to be my pleasant surprise of the year so far.
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