The unusual choice to helm Beautiful Creatures is Richard LaGravanese. LaGravanese gained attention with his second screenplay for Terry Gilliams The Fisher King (1991) and has since turned out works such as A Little Princess (1995), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), Beloved (1998), The Horse Whisperer (1998) and Water for Elephants (2011), while he has ventured into the directors chair on a handful of occasions with Living Out Loud (1998), the 1970s cinema documentary A Decade Under the Influence (2003), Freedom Writers (2007), P.S. I Love You (2007) and the subsequent The Last Five Years (2014). Most of these, it might be noted, fall into the Chick Flick genre. None of LaGravaneses oeuvre as a director cries out major fantasy director, which is one of the problems that Beautiful Creatures has as a film.
Almost immediately within the first few scenes, Richard LaGravanese delivers a film that seems about as a far away from Twilight as it is possible to get. There is a nominal similarity between the two works a small nowhere town setting; a regular human guy (as opposed to a girl) being attracted to the strange girl at school and they engaging in a romance, during which he discovers she is more than human; his then being drawn into the war going on between her extended supernaturally-empowered family. Where Twilight was a Cinderella fantasy of an ordinary girl waiting for the right man to come and take her away, Beautiful Creatures lead character is filled with restless intellectual questing. Richard LaGravanese immediately puts the film into an entirely different arena that you would expect of a young adult supernatural fantasy. Rather than mooning over Alden Ehrenreichs good looks and posturing him without a shirt on, LaGravanese is more interested in literature and readily namedrops authors like Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Charles Bukowski and Ayn Rand all but the last of whom sit among the American literary greats of the 20th Century. To show just how poles apart the two are, I would defy any of the fans in the Twilight teenage demographic to even be able say who any of these authors were, let alone name a book they wrote.
Not just that, LaGravanese propels Beautiful Creatures into a political arena that is at almost completely opposed remove from Twilight. Twilight was infused by original author Stephenie Meyers inherently conservative Mormon beliefs in chastity, the sanctity of marriage and opposition to abortion, a message that seemed absurdly at odds with the films constant sexual posturing. By complete contrast, Beautiful Creatures takes a position against Christian fundamentalism, seeing it as small-minded, bigoted and stands up in favour of tolerance and understanding, no matter the cost in a small close-minded community. (Oh and it seems to have little interest in sexually posturing any of its young stars). It is a brave stance for the film to take, especially given the climate of political instability the US exists in in 2013 and how much matters of religion have become hot-button issues. If one considers how a work like The Golden Compass (2007) was heralded with charges of promoting atheism, one wonders what Beautiful Creatures, which is far more upfront and placard carrying in terms of its anti-Christian message, is going to be greeted with.
I really began to like Beautiful Creatures within its first few scenes as a result of Richard LaGravaneses determination to show intellectual credentials, to shuck off all expectation of another Twilight and his strong-minded promotion of a liberal agenda. The two leads seem to work well together I maybe wanted to see Alice Englert (no less than the daughter of director Jane Campion) open up and do more with her character than she did, but Alden Ehrenreich bursts with a youthful zeal in him, you can almost see the makings of another Leonardo DiCaprio. That said, most of the show ends up being owned by the two Brits Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson who both affect outrageous Southern accents and have enormous fun chewing the scenery.
Where Beautiful Creatures becomes less interesting is when it segues into becoming an outright fantasy film. Richard LaGravanese abandons the winsome romance between social outsiders defying small-minded tradition that lights up the first half and takes on the contorted plotting centred around supernatural powers and scheming amongst the family members that is familiar to the Twilight series. The pacing and plotting here becomes uneven the film, for instance, slows right down in proceeding to its climax for some ten minutes so that Lena can study magical texts. More to the point though, LaGravanese seems less certain when it comes to the fantasy elements. There are various manifestations, storms, transformations and so on. In these, the special effects are nothing special and none of these scenes generate any sense of wonder. Even a scene where Emmy Rossum causes mischief at a dinnertable has a sense of farce to it that feels as though it has strayed in from Tim Burtons misguided Dark Shadows (2012). The sole scene that does stand out is when Jeremy Irons employs magic to make Alden Ehrenreich tell the story of his depressing future. The result ends up being half a great film one of two seemingly mismatched halves, one about social rebellion, lit up by its characters (and directors) passion for literature and defiance of social norms; the other what seems like a B-budgeted episode of tvs Supernatural (2005 ) that dully traipses through its plotting convolutions.