Top 10: Practical Magic

Only that moon, Gilly.
Kenosha, WI.

Times are weird. Elon Musk was recently quoted stating symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI) is “entirely optional, but strongly recommended.” I accidentally ran over 100 miles in the month of April. I’ve started drinking water regularly.

The current state of things makes it quite easy to be overcome with nostalgia. Scrolling past images of friends’ fresh oven-baked quarantine banana bread, I’m reminded of growing up in Bloomington-Normal, IL. At that time my mother entrusted me with the secret ingredient for the family banana bread recipe. I would parade around the Chemistry building at ISU, asking anyone if they were interested in finding out more about said ingredient.

When looking back on simpler times, some of my favorite memories surround family movie nights. My mom, my sister, and I would make popcorn, drag our comforters into the living room, and fall asleep watching one of our favorites. The usual reel: You’ve Got Mail, The Princess Bride, The Man Who Knew Too Little, & Practical Magic.

One bonus of quarantine is the sheer boredom of our favorite celebrities and the massive amounts of content with which they’re currently compensating. On one of his live sessions, I asked comedian Benton Ray “Hope Floats or Practical Magic?”. He shouted an emphatic “PRACTICAL MAGIC!” zooming in on his bloodshot eyes.

There are only a few remaining things that unite public opinion. McDonald’s has the best Diet Coke, Avanti’s has an addictive Ranch dressing, Sam Elliot is a silver fox, there is no such thing as Team Jacob, and finally – Practical Magic is a flawless cinematic masterpiece.

Continue reading for the Top 10 reasons why Practical Magic reigns supreme.

Strong female cast. Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest, & tiny Evan Rachel Wood. Need I say more? These powerhouse women remind the viewer that even our female characters may also be complex, multi-faceted beings. They each experience conflicts within their own identities and demonstrate the strength it takes to overcome all challenges (even the supernatural!).

Sisterhood & multiple generations. Each generation of the Owens family bares two daughters cursed to lose their husbands. The Aunts (Frances & Bridget) agree to host a safe haven for Sally (Bullock) and Gillian (Kidman), and Sally’s daughters (ERW & Camilla Belle). The Aunts struggle to allow Sally & Gillian to learn from their own mistakes; refusing the temptation to help fix their abusive relationships, attempted murders, and ensuing resurrections.

Witchy stuff. From apothecaries, to greenhouses, to trusted tigers eyes; coven life never seemed so practical. We’re first introduced to their lifestyle through otherwise harmless, leafy concoctions. This quickly escalates to scarring scenes of pigeon sacrifices and awakening the dead. It’s all cool until the needles and the whipped cream come out. Not a sexy combination.

Set design. Based on the novel written in 1995, it was originally set in a sleepy Massachusetts town. However, the film was comprised of many makeshift locations, with most scenes filmed in a Victorian-era port town in Washington state. Much of the film is set inside the Owens’ Aunt’s home; flush with a fresh herb conservatory, haunted rose bushes, and an attic prime for makeshift exorcisms. The big windows, white cabinets, and wraparound porch slay me to this day.

Doomed relationships. For 200 years, the Owens matriarchs have been cursed with the untimely death of their true love. Both Sally and Gillian were determined to abandon their destiny; trading the coven to lead normal lives. Both attempted to do so in very different ways. Sally was hoping that leading a ‘good’ and quiet life would leave her exempt from the bounds of the curse, yet she lost her husband soon after the beetle started ticking.

Gillian figured if she ran far away and immersed herself in a high-speed alternative lifestyle, the curse would not be tempted to spite her either. Yet, she had far worse in store. Few things scared little Katie more than Jimmy Angelov (who I always remembered to be Javier Bardem… incorrect!). His drunken abuse, coercive behavior, glossed over eyes, and his haunting hum of “you were always on my mind” give me chills to this day. While we’ve all got stories of doomed relationships past, can any of us really say an ex *possessed* us? Kidman’s got baaaad taste in men.

Self-preservation. A young Sally decided that she would write a recipe for the love of her life. She chose an impossible combination of a features. Wise beyond her years, she said “the guy I dreamed of doesn’t exist. And if he doesn’t exist, I’ll never die of a broken heart”. Slowly cue Gary, with the heterochromia iridum and the penchant for perfectly flipping pancakes.

Midnight margaritas. After a long day of emotional strain, Sally and Gillian wake up to the sound of a blender mixing Midnight Margaritas. They race downstairs, drink copious amounts of alcohol, and sloppily chant the lyrics to Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut”. Sally exclaims “since when is being a slut a crime in this family!?”. Chills soon roll in, a broom falls, and the Aunts start singing Willie Nelson. The girls quickly realize that this tequila belongs to Jimmy Angelov (RIP). An insidious spirit rapidly manifests and party time is over.

Soundtrack. Where else will you find Stevie Nicks, Faith Hill, Marvin Gaye, & Elvis Presley in one place? It’s like American Horror Story: Coven meets depressed college student meets old-school house party.

Teamwork. The Owens family, PTA mothers, and other townsfolk join together in feminist solidarity to help exorcise Jimmy’s demons from Gillian’s body. Not only are they ecstatic to confirm the mysteries surrounding the Owen women for so many years, their love and acceptance helps break the curse that’s been bestowed upon the family for centuries.

Quotables. This movie provides so many wonderful commentaries on what it means to be a woman, sister, daughter, and lover. During all of my heartaches and heartbreaks, I’ve found comfort in the phrases uttered by all characters. Some of my favorites:

  • “My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage!” – Aunt Frances
  • “Sometimes I feel there’s a hole inside of me, an emptiness that at times seems to burn. I think if you lifted my heart to your ear, you could probably hear the ocean” – Sally
  • “[S]ometimes, when the wind is warm or the crickets sing… I dream of a love that even time would lie down and be still for.” -Sally

I still remember one evening my sister brought me to tears. She stood me in front of our spice cabinet and explained to me that we were witches. “Why else would we have so many spices, Katie?”. I cried because I didn’t know how I would ever relate to anyone ever again, and I was worried about how I would keep this secret. I mean, look what I did with the coveted banana bread recipe.

I cried again when I learned we weren’t witches. I didn’t know how else to explain the bond between us three women, my love for the moon, or my deep fear of love lost.

“But, there are some things I know for certain: always throw spilt salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for luck, and fall in love whenever you can.”

Practical Magic. 1998.