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Practical Magic
Just a normal evening at the Owens house.
"Did you or your sister kill James Angelov?"
"Yeah, a couple of times."
-Sally Owens and Gary Hallett.

Sally and Gilly Owens are two sisters with an open secret: they come from a long line of witches, and their family harbors a terrible Hereditary Curse: any man who falls in love with them is doomed to die. They lost their father to the curse, and shortly after, their mother to a broken heart. As a result, they go off to live with their two eccentric aunts, Frances and Bridget. As they grow older, Sally decides she never wants to fall in love, and casts a spell to protect herself from its charms by decreeing she'll fall in love only with a man she believes can never exist. Gillian, on the other hand, is a free spirit who falls into lust easily and often, usually with men who are no good for her.

As they both grow older, Sally meets and marries a young man named Michael, and they have two daughters together. For the first time, she feels a normal life is attainable, and becomes part of the town community that had once shunned her for being a witch. Gillian drifts across the country, eventually meeting and falling for a violent creep named Jimmy Angelov. Both sisters hit a rough patch when Michael is killed — another victim of the curse — and Sally falls into a deep depression. Meanwhile, Jimmy isn't quite the angel he's pretended to be.

When Jimmy attacks and kidnaps the Owens sisters, they fight back and he ends up dead. In order to cover their tracks, the women resort to Black Magic to revive him, only he comes back an even worse monster in death than he was in life. Forced to kill him again, this time they bury him in their backyard and unleash a new curse on their family name. Their troubles are compounded when a detective, Gary Hallet, shows up looking for Jimmy.

The story is probably best remembered as a 1998 film, but was originally based on a book of the same name by Alice Hoffman. It should be noted that most of the tropes here apply to the movie. The book is markedly different. The movie stars Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock as the sisters (Gillian and Sally, respectively), with a supporting cast featuring Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, and Aidan Quinn. The director was Griffin Dunne, previously known for Addicted To Love (1997). The film was not particularly successful at the box office. It earned an estimated 46,683,377 dollars at the United States market, where it was only the 45th most successful film of its year. It performed relatively well in the United Kingdom but not elsewhere.


The movie provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: If anyone needed to die, it was Jimmy.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Aunt Jet uses these exact words to warn a woman against wishing for a man "to love [her] so much he can't stand it".
  • Black Magic: Bringing Jimmy Angelov back from the dead falls into this category.
  • Blood Sisters: Gilly and Sally, an important plot point.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Sally grows to hate magic, but she still keeps using it in her daily life. When she and Gilly screw up big, the aunts call her on it and tell her she "can't dabble in magic while looking down your nose at it."
    Kylie: Why can't we tell Mommy that we're using magic to get rid of the policeman?
    Gilly: Because Mommy likes to pretend she doesn't use magic.
  • Break the Cutie: Gillian, after she suffers through the possession
  • Brick Joke: Kylie points at Sara's son who has been teasing her and says she hopes he gets chicken pox. Later, during Gary's interviews, he's briefly shown to have broken out with red marks all over his face.
  • Broken Bird: Sally, after losing her husband.
  • Bug Buzz: The sound of the death beetle portended Michael's death.
  • Burn the Witch!: Averted when the hanging of the main characters' ancestor fails.
  • Came Back Wrong: Jimmy Angelov. Although he was shown to be something of a monster before his death as well. Lampshaded by Gillain when Sally warns her he'll come back "dark and unnatural."
    Gillian: Jimmy's already dark and unnatural! I don't care how he comes back, as long as he has a pulse!
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Sally finds herself unable to lie to Gary.
  • Cartwright Curse: Gender-flipped with the Owens women.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Phone Tree.
    • The cuts on both Gillian and Sally's palms.
  • Coupeville Doubling: Although the film supposedly takes place in a small New England town, most scenes were filmed in Coupeville and Friday Harbor, WA.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Both of the aunts in the book, where they're said to have half a dozen raggedy cats. In the movie, only one black cat is shown.
  • Curse Escape Clause: Searching for this is one of the sub-plots.
  • Cute Witch: Sally and Gilly as little girls. You just want to cuddle them both. Sally's daughters are adorable, too.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Gillian just can't leave without her lucky necklace...
  • Demonic Possession: Happens to Gilly.
  • Domestic Abuse: Jimmy was extremely possessive of Gillian and eventually punched her during an argument. Later, he tries to brand her with his skull ring.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Gillian is usually barefoot.
  • Easily Forgiven: Despite finding out that Gilly and Sally accidentally murdered someone, no-one seems to bothered by this.
    • Averted in the book, Jimmy died of alcohol poisoning.
  • Eye of Newt: The spells cast by the Owens women call for some interesting ingredients, which the girls have to substitute for when they can't find the real deal (see the the whipped cream in the photo at the page top).
    • When one of the Aunts sees Gilly's bruise, she says "a little mugwort will clear that right up." Ironically, Witch Hazel, which is actually used for healing bruises, scrapes and wounds, would have been more appropriate.
    • The aunts recite the famous "eye of newt" spell from Shakespeare while putting ingredients into a blender to make margaritas.
  • Eye Scream: Subverted. Part of the spell to bring Jimmy back to life involves sticking two needles into his eyes but he wakes up just before they get to it.
  • Flying Broomstick: Subverted; the witches have broomsticks, but for the more practical use of sweeping up the ashes of a demonic spirit.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Gillian and Sally, respectively.
  • Generation Xerox: The Owens family seems to produce one pair of sisters per generation, one redhead and one brunette. They even hang a lampshade on this with identically framed shots of Gilly and Sally walking up to the aunts' house and, years later, Sally's daughters doing the same.
    • The aunts look like they might also have fit this trope before their hair grayed.
  • Gossipy Hens: The ladies in town relentlessly gossip and spread rumors about the Owens women.
  • Granola Girl: Sally has a few of these tendencies, with her all-natural, oatmeal-based shampoos, soaps, and body lotions.
    • Even moreso in the books, where she becomes a vegetarian after witnessing the bird-killing love spell, and great detail is used in describing her cooking.
  • Has Two Mommies: Gilly and Sally are raised by their two aunts.
  • Hereditary Curse: All the witches in the family are cursed in that any man they fall in love with is doomed to die an untimely death.
  • Hollywood Law: Without a search warrant, any evidence Gary collected would be deemed inadmissible in a court of law and thus could not be used against them. Not to mention that by repeatedly stealing Sally's mail, he is in fact committing a felony himself.
  • Hot Witch: Sally, in spite of herself. Gillian, quite deliberately. (The Aunts were apparently quite the lookers in their days, as well.)
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Sally.
  • Leit Motif: Jimmy sings "You Were Always On My Mind" during his drunken, murderous behavior before his death. It shows up again to foreshadow future troubles with him.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Gilly.
  • Love Potion: The aunts sell them when needed.
    • A love spell is also used to encourage Sally to fall in love with Michael (though the aunts never knew it would go as far as it did).
    • And of course, Sally's love spell at the beginning of the film sets into motion the breaking of their family's curse
  • Magic Misfire: Bringing Jimmy Angelov back made him meaner and nastier than ever.
  • Mind Rape: Jimmy attempts this with Gilly and the entire family in the book. His angry spirit affects their entire neighborhood, actually.
  • Never Heard That One Before: "Witch, witch, you're a bitch!"
    Sally: You'd think after three hundred years they'd come up with a better rhyme!
  • Nude Nature Dance: It just isn't the Solstice if at least a pair or two of Owen women aren't dancing naked under the full moon, apparently. (Never shown on screen, this remains a great running joke all the same.)
  • Plot Hole: Sally uses a plane to get to Gilly after she calls requesting help; after they kill Jimmy, they somehow manage to drive from Arizona to the East Coast in a single night. Can be Hand Waved as A Wizard Did It, but still...
  • Portent of Doom: The chirping of the death watch beetle foretells the death of a loved one.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Given that Jimmy was already shown to be a borderline sociopath, you have to question why bringing him back to life as something "dark and unnatural" was ever going to be a good idea. Sally does question this, but only for about two minutes.
    • Averted with the Aunts, who promptly leave the next morning with the following note;
  • The Power of Love: Ultimately the Curse Escape Clause.
  • Sarcastic Confession: See the page quote up top.
  • The Sheriff: Gary Hallet.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Jimmy is going on and on about cattle branding as he heats up his ring with a lighter. Sally listens intently, part fearful and part trying to figure out what he's getting at, until he moves to put the hot metal against Gilly's skin. She then reaches in the back seat and starts slapping him until he stops. She then lectures him on the actual history of cattle branding and what a moron he is.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Solid, practical Sally and wild, flighty Gillian. Even their hair colors telegraph this, with Sally's straight black hair and Gillian's fiery locks.
  • Spell Book: The Aunts have a very old book of spells that appears to have been passed down through the generations.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Sally's eldest daughter looks almost exactly like an aged-down version of Gilly.
  • Suddenly Sober: After Gillian smashes the bottle of tequila, everyone instantly loses their giggly drunkenness.
    • It could be argued that their intense intoxication was somewhat caused by Jimmy's spirit affecting everyone in the house as the aunts are heard singing the same song He was just before Gillian and Sally killed him the first time, and Sally noticed that it was Jimmy's bottle of booze.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: When Michael gets hit by the truck instead of the bicyclists.
  • Telecom Tree: Sally is part of a parent-teacher organization and placement at the top of the phone tree is a serious status symbol.
  • Utility Magic: Sally uses magic to do practical things like stir her coffee and light candles.
    • Aunt Jet makes toast just by glancing at the toaster.
  • Widow Witch: Sally.
  • Witch Species: Witchcraft follows bloodlines.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Jimmy Angelov gives Gillian a black eye.


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