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Film / Practical Magic

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Gary Hallet: Did you or your sister kill James Angelov?
Sally Owens: Yeah, a couple of times.

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. Hearing about the curse and seeing the sadness it brings, plus the enmity of the town toward their witchy family, 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 cannot possibly 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 foregoes magic entirely, or tries to. She seeks out a normal life. The well-meaning aunts give her a magical nudge, however. 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.

In 2004, Sandra Bullock produced a pilot for a TV series based on the movie titled Sudbury starring Jeri Ryan, Kim Delaney, and Kat Dennings, but it didn't make it to series. The pilot was reviewed as an episode of the podcast Canceled Too Soon.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Alarm SOS: Sally uses the class phone tree (meant to alert other moms when there is a snow day or similar emergency) to summon the moms to become a coven and save Gilly.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: The Owens women have been victims of this for centuries, ever since the town's last attempt to Burn the Witch! failed. Aunt Frances and Jet aren't bothered by it, but Gilly and Sally are.
  • And Starring: The main cast roll ends with "and Aidan Quinn".
  • Artistic Licence - Geography: Bulgaria doesn't really border on Transylvania. It does border on Romania though (one of the regions of which Transylvania is), and that's probably as good knowledge of Balkans as it gets in Hollywood. It's also possible Jimmy just lied to her and she took his word for it.
  • Asshole Victim: If anyone needed to die, it was Jimmy. Abusive: he hit Gillian for correcting him in front of a kid that a jelly donut isn't a cream donut. Violent: aside from branding his women with his ring (Gillian would not have been the first), he had a tendency to strangle women when he thought they were trying to escape him. And controlling: to the point of not being willing to let Gillian go to the restroom by herself, and to the point where she felt the need to drug him to have the occasional bit of rest from his constant attentions.
  • Balkan Bastard: Jimmy from Bulgaria (Angelov is a Bulgarian surname, as correctly noted in the film) is definitely this.
  • 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".
    • Ironically, Aunt Frances does as well:
    Jet: She goes through all these men, none of which are any good for her.
    Frances: One day maybe she'll meet a man who goes through her.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: After recording some of her confessional and showing her the letter she had written weeks ago (which he confessed to reading over and over), Gary and Sally end up sharing a kiss after rounds of Belligerent Sexual Tension building up between them.
  • Black Magic:
    • Bringing Jimmy Angelov back from the dead falls into this category.
    • Also, Sally and Gillian slice their palms and clasp hands to cure Gillian's Demonic Possession. Their joined hands and shared blood cures Gillian and breaks the family curse.
  • 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 bullying 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.
  • Burn the Witch!: Averted when the hanging of the main characters' ancestor fails due to her magically saving herself.
  • 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. She find her way around it by using Exact Words.
    Gary: Are you hiding James Angelov?
    Sally: Not in this house.
  • Cartwright Curse: Gender-flipped with the Owens women.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The phone tree.
    • The cuts on both Gillian and Sally's palms.
    • Gary's sheriff badge.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Gillian chain-smokes in the car after Jimmy drops dead.
    Sally: You really should stop smoking so much.
    Gillian: Why? I'll probably get life. I should smoke two at once; it'll shorten the sentence.
  • Coming-Out Story: A non LGBTQ kind, but lampshaded nonetheless. Sally, during the phone tree operation, reveals "I'm a witch!" Her friend's response?
    Carla: I got the best news: Sally. Just. Came. Out.
  • Cool Aunt: Frances and Jet. Gilly is also this to Sally's girls, Kylie and Antonia.
  • 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...
  • Death by Despair: Sally and Gilly's mother died from a broken heart after their father died.
  • Demonic Possession: Happens to Gilly.
  • Demoted to Extra: Sally's two daughters in the film, since the second half of the book focused much more on them.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Jimmy Angelov, whom, in Gillian's own words, "has this Dracula cowboy thing" going for him.
  • 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.
  • Easily Forgiven: Despite finding out that Gilly and Sally killed someone, no-one seems to bothered by this (however, it was justifiable as self defense both times. Averted in the book, where 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 really is 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. Besides, they apparently don't need brooms to fly.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Gillian and Sally, respectively.
  • Funny Background Event: During a confrontation with the other kids, Kylie points to one of her bullies and jinxes him with chicken pox. In a later scene as the sheriff is interviewing his mom we see that he actually did contract chicken pox and that the jinx worked.
  • 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. Justified, in that the family curse doesn't necessarily allow for more than a pair of daughters in a generation.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: When Sally activates the phone tree.
  • 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.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl:
    • Gilly in the movie, though it's implied most Owens women indulge in this from time to time. "Midnight Margaritas," anyone?
    • In the book, the Owens women have a long, proud tradition of being this. So much so the real reason their parents died was they were too busy drunkenly going at it during their latest honeymoon to notice some of their romantic candles had fallen over and burned down the house down till it was too late. This traumatized young Sally into becoming a prudish good girl, which her aunts regarded with worry and disapproval, while Gilly did her mama proud by taking after her in terms of hard drinking and partying.
  • 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.
    • Both Sally and Gillian are thoroughly convinced that they'll go to jail if the truth about what happened to Jimmy ever comes out, however both times they attacked him was in self defense, and Gary had proof that he had already killed another woman exactly like how he attacked Gillian in the car. Any case they tried to build against them would fall apart in court.
  • Hot Witch: Sally, in spite of herself. Gillian, quite deliberately. (The Aunts were apparently quite the lookers in their days, as well.)
  • Idiot Ball: The abusive boyfriend who Would Hit a Girl, and who scared Gillian so much she telephoned across the states for help, stepped out of the car to take a leak. They sit meekly in the car, Sally at the steering wheel, and wait for him to come back.... Because he had taken the car keys, so they couldn't drive away. The real Too Dumb to Live moment was when Gillian went back for her tiger's eye despite knowing that Jimmy could be anywhere. And after all that trouble in killing him, reviving him, killing him again, and burying him in the backyard... they just leave Jimmy's car parked in their driveway. Hallet notices it immediately.
  • Incest Subtext: After her heartbreak from Gary leaving, Sally goes inside and hugs Gillian who proceeds to sniff her hair and lick her face. Sally is obviously Squicked out at first from this behavior with her sister until Gilly whispers "Ye Haw" in a seductive whisper and says "I'm feeling very into sisters right now...". Realizing that it is Jimmy's spirit who is demonically controlling Gilly, Sally punches her in an attempt to subdue Jimmy and begs for a fight.
  • Ironic Name: Bulgarian Jimmy Angelov, which sounds like "Angel Love", who is really a Devil in Plain Sight. By the way, it is really a Bulgarian surname, and "angel" in Bulgarian means just the same thing as in English.
  • Internalized Categorism: Sally against magic in the movie, though especially after her husband dies.
  • 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.
    • Once more lampshaded by the aunts, who begin to sing it after getting loaded on a bottle of Jimmy's favorite brand of tequila.
      The Aunts (singing drunkenly): "You were always on my were always on my mind..."
      Sally (angry): Where did this bottle come from?!
      The Aunts (still singing): "Someone left it on the pooorch...someone left it on the porch..."
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Sally is dark-haired, serious, responsible, and tempered by tragedy. Gillian has bright red hair and is a devil-may-care, impulsive, party girl who never wants to be tied down.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Jimmy is only the latest (and worst) in a long line of Gilly's reckless, impulsive, doomed relationships.
  • Loophole Abuse: Attempted. The Aunts think that if they give Sally a magical nudge to fall in love with Michael, the terms of the curse won't be met. However, Sally Became the Mask and truly fell in love with her husband, causing the terms of the curse to activate.
  • Love Hurts: The reason their ancestor Maria cast the curse in the first place.
  • 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.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Maria Owens, who kickstarted the family's reputation for witchcraft by escaping her own hanging using magic, in front of the entire town. They're all too horrified to stop her from walking away.
  • 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!
  • Not the First Victim: A downplayed example. After discovering the girls have Jimmy Angelov's car, Gary reveals to Sally and Gilly that he's looking for Jimmy because another girl was found strangled on the side of a road, with the same brand that Jimmy tried to give Gilly.
  • 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.)
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Aunt Jet's name is actually short for Bridget.
  • 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 lover.
  • The Power of Love: Ultimately the Curse Escape Clause.
  • Real After All: The reality of the Owenses' magical powers is never in doubt, but those powers are relatively subtle. The town rumor that the Owens Women fly from the roof of their house every Halloween seems like a ridiculous exaggeration by stupidly superstitious people. Nope.
  • Really Gets Around: Implied with Gillian after she shows up at the phone tree meeting and all the women gossip about her. She even lampshaded it:
    Gillian: That's right, I'm back! Hang onto your husbands girls!
    • Their ancestor Maria apparently set the precedent. Itís noted she got herself condemned to die because several of her lovers had wives on the hanging committee.
  • Redhead In Green: Gillian strolls downstairs in a skimpy emerald-green sundress in hopes of distracting Hallet. It doesn't work.
  • Sarcastic Confession: See the page quote up top.
  • The Scapegoat: If something bad happens in town, you can bet the Owens women will be blamed.
  • Scenery Porn: Combined with Big Fancy House. The Owen women live in a gorgeous Victorian house near the water.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The aunts leave when they figure out Sally and Gillian made a mess but are refusing to admit it.
  • Second Love: After losing her first husband Michael to the curse, Sally falls for officer Gary Hallet who investigates the Owens on Jimmy Angelov's murder.
  • Serial Killer: Jimmy tries to brand and strangle Gillian. Gary Hallet reveals that he's done this to previous girlfriends.
  • 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.
    • Sally's daughters mirror this in a Generation Xerox fashion. With Kylie being a Fiery Redhead with no qualms about using her magic and Antonia being more levelheaded and concerned about hurting others.
  • Slut-Shaming:
    • Sally does this to Gilly while drunk and influenced by Jimmy's spirit.
    • In a meta sense, the movie does this to Gilly. In the book, she overcomes Jimmy's death quickly and meets her Second Love, the girls' high school principal. The movie removes her second love interest and adds a Demonic Possession , effectively "punishing" her for her promiscuity (though it could be argued the very possession is what makes Sally stop slut-shaming her).
  • 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.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Witchcraft follows bloodlines. During the climax however, other women in the town help them perform a spell so magic doesn't seem to be 100% genetic.
  • 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 singing 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.
  • 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. Gilly points out "he's already dark and unnatural," arguing he couldn't get any worse. She's wrong.
    • Averted with the Aunts, who promptly leave the next morning with the following note;
    • Gillian sees blood on the moon and freaks that she left her tigerís eye behind (whose magical property is protection). Running back to get it gives Jimmy the time to ambush them and puts their lives in danger. If she hadnít gone back, they probably would have gotten away safely.
  • Turn Undead: Hallet manages to do this with his police badge. Apparently, it's all about what you really believe in.
  • 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.
  • Waif Prophet: Sally's younger daughter Antonia in the book, her older daughter Kylie in the film. In both stories, the child is able to see Jimmy's ghost when no one else can.
  • Widow Witch: Sally.
  • Witch Classic: All the main female characters, including the very traditional New-Age Retro Hippie aunts as well as the younger daughters. Brooms and potions are both used in magic in the film and they even wear the traditional clothes during Halloween.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Jimmy Angelov gives Gillian a black eye.