With an incredible soundtrack featuring brilliant collaborations between Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow, a whimsical depiction of kind magic, a story about the strength of sisterly bonds, and a romantic world in which you can find a “love that even time will lie down and be still for,” there is a lot to enjoy about the 1998 film Practical Magic. Starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as two sister-witches working through a deadly curse on their love lives, Practical Magic tells its story with blissful scenes that are picture-perfect for Halloween screenings year after year.
I’ve adored Practical Magic since I first saw it in a New York City movie theater during my freshman year of college. I felt understood in a way I’d never felt after watching a film. I deeply related to sisters Gillian Owens (Kidman) and Sally Owens (Bullock) as they tried to navigate the world after the death of their parents. My dad died when I was 10, so I could empathize with their grief. Although the film is categorized as a comedy, it expresses loss in a true and unflinching way. Not only because of the honest way the protagonists mourn their parents, but because of the curse haunting them: If an Owens woman and a man fall in love, that man will die.
Moreover, as an outcast who’d been the victim of bullying as kid, I teared up at the aunt-witches’ wisdom at the start of the movie when Gillian and Sally are harassed by other kids. The aunts explained to the two sisters that they are not hated by those kids—they’re just different.
The aunts later cautioned them that being normal isn’t a virtue, and that it “rather denotes a lack of courage.” That was just the validation I needed to face my bullies without changing who I was to please them.
I saw parts of myself in both Gillian and Sally. I unapologetically longed for love like Gillian, and I craved the kinds of adventures she had. Yet, there was also a part of me wanting the normalcy that Sally created for herself—and “a husband I just can’t stop kissing.”
It was after I saw the movie again (and again…and again) that I realized Practical Magic was based on a novel. I got the book that day, and forever after Alice Hoffman has been my favorite novelist. While there are major differences between the book and the movie, as is the nature of film adaptations, the 1998 classic does justice to the magical, romantic, and empowering world that Hoffman made for the Owens sisters to inhabit.
Beautifully directed by Griffin Dunne, Practical Magic is a movie where love is able to defeat evil. Specifically, the love between sisters. There is a scene in which Gillian is almost strangled to death by her abuser when she tries to leave him. That sort of thing does not fly in the world of Practical Magic. When the sisters work together to defend themselves against an abuser, they win. They aren’t punished for it.
In our real world, where women who have been victimized are trivialized, dismissed, and even mocked by the president, immersing oneself in the Owens sisters’ empowering reality is a nice escape. And that’s just one of the many reasons why so many women still find themselves watching it over and over.
Celebrities like Julianne Hough, Michelle Branch, and more have all publicly waxed poetic about their affinity for the movie. On the 2018 Oscars red carpet, the film’s stars spoke about how they’re still proud of it, with Nicole Kidman saying it’s one of her films that she shows her daughter. Whenever I bring up Practical Magic in a group of women, I always get similar responses describing how the strong female friendships portrayed throughout the film’s magical, mischievous, and romantic adventures bring them joy. I still celebrate the advice at the end of the movie: “Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Plant lavender for luck, and fall in love whenever you can.”
Anyone with enduring adoration for the movie was thrilled to know that Alice Hoffman expanded upon the world we all fell in love with in a novel released last year. The Rules of Magic is a prequel in which Hoffman focuses on the magical tales of the Owens sisters’ amazing aunts, and also helps us more deeply understand why they chose to raise Gillian and Sally so unconventionally. And if you ask me, Halloween season happens to be a perfect time to read The Rules of Magic and the book that inspired Practical Magic.
There have long been rumors of a potential television adaptation or remake of Practical Magic. Nicole Kidman has even casually discussed that she’d love to be part of a sequel, should the opportunity ever arise. But the beloved 1998 film with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman will always remain my ultimate Halloween movie. From the opening shot where we learn about Maria, the badass witch and Owens ancestor, to the ending where Sally has a second chance at true love, Practical Magic is a film about the magic of romance and connection. It can be as spooky as it is wonderful, and just like it does every year, Practical Magic will help me powerfully dream all throughout autumn.