Writer-director Richard LaGravenese has adapted the popular young adult series “Beautiful Creatures” into a lush Southern Gothic starring an impressive cast of distinguished actors. The story chronicles how 16-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) meets the girl of his dreams (literally) on the first day of his junior year. Ethan lives in Gatlin, S.C., a Southern town so small and so stuck in its ways the Civil War is still referred to as the War of Northern Aggression. But beautiful and mysterious Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is unlike anyone Ethan’s ever encountered: she’s brilliant, well-traveled, and, also, she’s a witch — or “caster” as her family prefers to be called.
Unfortunately for Ethan, Lena’s reclusive uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) doesn’t want her dating anyone, much less a mortal who could pose a danger to her claiming day — her 16th birthday — when she will be “claimed” for either good or evil. Not that a birthday or a curse or anything else could keep these kids apart. Teens, especially those familiar with the books, will be curious to see the latest YA adaptation. Nut there’s plenty for adults to enjoy as well, especially the performances by Irons, Viola Davis (Ethan’s auntie of sorts) and Emma Thompson (who does double duty as a bigoted Southern mom and a witch).
Here are issues to consider or discuss before seeing the movie with your kids.
1. Forbidden Love: As in the majority of fantasy films, Ethan and Lena are from opposite worlds — she’s a witch, and he’s a mortal. And like other star-crossed lovers, the young couple must overcome countless obstacles to be together. But even as the clock keeps ticking, Ethan stands by her side to attempt to keep the powers of darkness from claiming his beloved. You can compare Ethan and Lena’s love story to other similarly doomed-seeming couples, like Katniss and Peeta of “Hunger Games” or Edward and Bella of “Twilight.”
2. Witchy Woman: While Lena is sometimes unable to control her powers, her older cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) knows exactly how she affects men. A dark caster, Ridley’s a siren who lures men to do whatever she wants them to — from the macabre (standing in front of an oncoming train, shooting a gun) to the mundane. She prances around in slinky, skin-tight clothes and is frequently seen flirting with or making out with Linc, Ethan’s best friend. The night of her “claiming,” Ridley kills a man with her powers.
3. Finally, A Nice Guy: Those familiar with Young Adult novels probably know that one of the most common tropes in paranormal romances is the edgy bad boy with the hidden heart of gold. It’s as ubiquitous a fixture in teen lit as love triangles, but authors Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia decided to make their protagonist the kind of guy they didn’t get the chance to date in high school — so Ethan is a sensitive, supportive boyfriend. In fact, the only reason Lena’s relatives deem him “unsuitable” has nothing to do with generosity and everything to do with his mortality. Otherwise, Ethan is the picture of the perfect boyfriend.
4. For the Love of Banned Books: Both Lena and Ethan have fairly sophisticated taste in literature, particularly for living in such an insular small town as Gatlin. Ethan loves Kurt Vonnegut, while Lena is a devotee of Charles Bukowski’s poetry. During a conversation about “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a couple of students claim they can’t read the classic novel, because it’s a Banned Book. Ethan and Lena’s willingness to read acclaimed but controversial works is portrayed in stark contrast to most of the townsfolk, who are closed minded about pretty much everything. Consider this an opportune time to discuss your family’s thoughts on the subject.
5. Read It, Then See It: Young adult literature is so popular right now that even if your teen didn’t have “Beautiful Creatures” on her to-read list, seeing the movie as an incentive will make her want to delve into the Caster Chronicles universe. There are considerable differences between the movie and the book, so reading the first installment even after checking out the movie won’t be a bore. Despite it’s hefty length, the story flies by as you immerse yourself in Ethan and Lena’s bond as they desperately try to find a way for Lena to “claim” the light.
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Alden Ehrenreich (Ethan Wate)
Ehrenrich plays restless teen Ethan, who falls for the new girl despite the town’s opposition to her mysterious family. He was discovered at age 14 at a friend’s bat mitzvah by Steven Spielberg when the director saw him in a short film. With Spielberg’s help, he lined up some TV roles including the “Wendigo” episode of “Supernatural”; he then appeared in the Francis Ford Coppola films, “Tetro” and “Twixt.” He next stars in the thriller “Stoker,” which opens in limited release on March 1.
Alice Englert (Lena Duchannes)
The New Zealand native, who plays conflicted caster Lena Duchannes, is the daughter of Oscar-winning director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) and second-unit director Colin Englert. Her parents divorced in 2001 when she was 7. She made her film debut at 8 and at 12 appeared in her mother’s short film “The Water Diary.” After leaving high school to pursue acting, she starred with Elle Fanning in “Ginger & Rosa” for director Sally Potter, and in the Roland Joffe thriller “In Fear,” which screened this year at Sundance. She recently wrapped “Singularity” opposite Josh Hartnett.
Emmy Rossum (Ridley Duchannes)
Rossum plays Siren Ridley (she s<a href=”http://news.moviefone.com/2013/02/11/emmy-rossum-beautiful-creatures-interview_n_2662907.html”>poke to Moviefone</a> about how much fun she had playing her first villain), but you already know her from her roles in “Mystic River,” “The Day After Tomorrow” “Poseidon,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” She released her debut album, “Inside Out,” in 2007. She currently stars on the Showtime series “Shameless” as Fiona Gallagher.
Thomas Mann (Wesley Jefferson “Link” Lincoln)
Mann plays Ethan’s best friend, who’s one of the few people in town willing to ignore the gossip about the Ravenwoods, despite the fervent preaching of his ultra-religious mother (Emma Thompson). Mann also played Ben in “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and Thomas in “Project X.” His other credits include “Fun Size” and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”
Zoey Deutch (Emily Asher)
Deutch, who plays mean girl Emily, is another showbiz kid: her parents are “Back to the Future” star Lea Thompson and “Pretty in Pink” director Howard Deutch. She began acting in 2010 on the Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life on Deck,” then played Sarah Michelle Gellar’s bratty stepdaughter on the CW series “Ringer.” She just landed the lead role of Rosemarie in the upcoming film adaptation of the Vampire Academy books.
Tiffany Boone (Savannah Snow)
Boone plays another mean girl who bullies Lena. “Southland” fans might recall her from last season: She’s the girl who gets in Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie)’s face until he <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZMRWOcFsds”>punches back in frustration</a>. Her other credits include an appearance on the series “Suburgatory” and the horror comedy “Detention.”
Kyle Gallner (Larkin Ravenwood)
Larkin is Lena’s cousin, an Illusionist who has the power to change his appearance. Gallner starred as Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas on “Veronica Mars” and had recurring roles on “Smallville,” Big Love” and “CSI: New York.” He also played the lead in “The Haunting in Connecticut” and the 2010 remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” He just wrapped production on “CBGB,” in which he plays rock legend Lou Reed.
Rachel Brosnahan (Genevieve Duchannes)
Brosnahan is seen in flashbacks as Lena’s great-great-great-great grandmother, who caused the Duchannes family curse during the Civil War. She plays Rachel in the just-debuted Netflix original series “House of Cards,” and has appeared in episodes of “Gossip Girl,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Good Wife.” She also has a celebrity relative: Handbag designer Kate Spade is her aunt.