Practical Magic Book vs Movie Review

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995)

Practical Magic directed by Griffin Dunne (1998)

This subscriber pick was suggested by Joley Eytel and TA1920!

This is a chick flick about the Owens family-we have two aunts who raise sisters Sally and Gillian, and Sally’s daughter’s Antonia and Kylie. We see the ups and downs in their relationships with each other, as well as their romantic relationships. The spin on this story of female bonds being that the Owen’s come from a long line of witches!

I am going to get right into the plot, which means there will be spoilers right away!

The family curse

In both book and movie, we hear about Maria Owens who was believed to be a witch. In the movie, she is abandoned by the man who fathered her child before she even gives birth and vows to never fall in love again. This causes her posterity to also be cursed that if they find love, it won’t last. Hence, why Sally and Gillian’s parents die-the father died due to the curse and the mom died from a broken heart.

In the book, Maria still sees the father of her baby, but after a while, he tires of her and despite her pleading, wants nothing to do with her. He had also been married in the book. She is heartbroken, but I didn’t think she cursed the family. Sally and Gillian’s parents both die when they are on vacation and they are so in love with each other, they don’t notice a fire starting. Sally then calls the aunts, letting them know they will become wards of the state unless the aunts come and claim them.

Sally’s husband

In both book and movie, Sally falls in love with a local man, and he ends up dying after less than 5 years. In the movie this is blamed on the curse, but in the book, I think it was just seen as a random thing.

But while married to him in both book and movie, the town, who would avoid the Owens’, started to welcome them and invite them to gatherings and parties. In the book, after he dies Sally doesn’t talk for a year and the aunts raise her daughters during that time. The town also starts to go back to avoiding the Owens’ family. Gillian call’s once a week during this year and tries to help Sally and get her to be active in life again. In the movie, Gillian actually comes to see Sally in person because she can sense Sally isn’t doing well.

In the book, after that first year, Sally snaps out of it enough to decide to move to a different state and begin fresh. As the years pass, she is seen as one of the most responsible and respected women in the town. Her daughters love the aunts and spend a month with them every summer even though Sally herself doesn’t love being around them.

In the movie, Sally remains in her hometown and is avoided, and her daughter’s also start to be called witches. She is also closer to her aunts, though she doesn’t want them filling her daughter’s heads with witch related things.

From here, the book and movie are different enough that I will talk about them separately!

Book plot

Sally hasn’t seen Gillian in over 15 years, and by now her own daughters are 13 and 16. When one night Gillian shows up and tells her she has her dead boyfriend, Jimmy, in the car. He was an abusive alcoholic and she had been micro-dosing him to keep him calm. She thinks over time this killed him because while they were driving, he randomly slumped over dead. Sally helps Gillian bury him, and then Gillian stays to live with Sally and her daughters.

Through the book we hear about the drama between Sally’s daughters-Antonia and Kylie, and Gillian becomes especially close with Kylie. Sally and Gillian have a falling out after an incident when Gillian convinces Kylie to dye her hair. After this there is a lot of animosity in the house between everyone. Kylie tells them that she sees a man out by the lavender and he just hangs out there and watches them and that he likes it when they are arguing with each other. No one else can see him, but Sally and Gillian know it is the ghost of Jimmy. Sally cuts down the lavender, and this seems to solve the issue.

Then an investigator, Gary who is looking for Jimmy to arrest him for selling dangerous drugs to college kids which led to their deaths, finds Sally’s house due to a letter she had sent to Gillian when she was with Jimmy. He falls in love with Sally while reading this letter, and when they meet face to face they both feel something between them.

Meanwhile, Gillian starts to date a guy in the town and they start to fall in love. But Jimmy won’t stay buried, and different items of his literally keep coming up from the ground. They reach out the aunts, and with their help, they make a brew which keeps Jimmy dead and buried.

Amidst all of this, Gary confronts them about Jimmy and initially they lie and make excuses, but he knows they aren’t telling the truth. That night though Sally can’t bear lying to him and chases him down and tells him the truth. He accepts what she says and goes back to Arizona. He later sends her Jimmy’s death certificate which claims his body was found in a house fire down there.

We then get an ending scene where everyone is together and living happily.

Movie plot

In the movie, Sally is the one that kills Jimmy because he is attacking Gillian after kind of taking the two of them hostage. They try to bring him back to life, because they can’t go to jail for murder if he isn’t dead. He is violent when brought back though, and Sally kills him yet again. They then bury him in the yard.

The aunts are around more often (in the book Sally moved out of state, but in the movie, they live in the same town), and one night they are drinking margaritas and having fun, when the aunts begin to sing the song that was playing when Jimmy died. They then see that they are drinking the same alcohol Jimmy had been drinking that night. (The song by the way is “You Were Always On My Mind” and I can never hear that song again without thinking of All of Us Strangers! So seeing it played in this scene in a significant way was interesting. But nothing can overpower that significance that song has in All of Us Strangers!)

The aunts leave soon after this, and Kylie, as in the book, once again says she can see his ghost. Sally is cutting down the roses that have grown where he is, when the investigator shows up. Again, Sally and Gillian lie even though Sally has a hard time not telling the truth and Gary clearly doesn’t believe them.

He then questions the town who all talk about how the family are witches. He later comes over during breakfast to question them and sees a frog burp up Jimmy’s ring (this happened in the book too, but it was one of the daughters who saw it happen). Gary storms off, telling them to get a lawyer. Sally chases him down and tells him the truth.

From here, Sally and Gary both go back to the house where Gillian is being possessed by Jimmy. Gary gets rid of Jimmy’s ghost and then leaves to go back to Arizona. When Sally comes home, she sees that Gillian is possessed once again. The aunts show up and with the help of different women in the town, they are able to cast him out of Gillian and get rid of him for good.

In the end, Gary comes back to be with Sally, and the town now accepts the Owen’s family and we see them gathered at the Owen’s house on Halloween.

Changes from book to movie

In the movie the witchcraft aspect played a much bigger role and there was a lot of supernatural things happening. I loved this change! In the book there weren’t many spells being cast at all and for a book about witch sisters, it didn’t feel very witchy. The book though makes a point to show how falling in love is its own spell and can make people do crazy things when under that influence.

We also saw a lot more of the aunts in the movie and that scene with the margaritas which starts out fun and then turns chaotic and ends eerie was really well done.

The movie also has the added part where young Sally casts a spell for her perfect guy, but the point of the spell is that she is asking for a guy that doesn’t’ exist. But of course, Gary ends up fitting the criteria. The movie though cuts Gillian’s love story from the book.

In the book Gillian also was on rocky ground with the aunts and had no interest in having a relationship with them. They reconcile in the end (the aunts have watched Opra and learned not to be so judgmental which was a funny detail). In the movie Gillian wasn’t actively so opposed to seeing the aunts again.

We also do not get any of the drama with Antonia and Kylie in the movie. I was fine with this though. Their parts in the book were kind of whatever, and I liked that the movie choose to focus on the adult sisters, which were the more interesting part of the book anyway.

The book does have a great story about a woman who visits the aunts when the girls are young, wanting a spell to get a guy to falling in love with her, as things progress, this woman ends up miserable once she has gotten what she wants. This story was one of the most interesting parts of the book but it isn’t in the movie.

Book vs movie

The book felt like it was almost having an identity crisis at times because we have a story about teenagers which felt YA, but then we would get these moments with the adults in the story that would be somewhat graphic and  just very adult in one way or another. It would be jarring to suddenly read. Then amidst this surface level story, there would suddenly be  moments where something profound and important would be said. I would like to read more by this author, because I think this book had a lot of potential. But this one specifically could have done with some rewrites in order for it to feel more balanced. That probably sounds too harsh, like it wasn’t that all over the place, but it kinda was.

The movie was smart to make the changes they did, and I had so much fun watching this! Again, I loved that they had the witch aspect be so much more of a focus, and I loved the casting. I mean you can’t go wrong with 1990’s Bullock and Kidman. Oh and I didn’t really touch on this, but in the movie Sally and Gillian have a telepathic connection and the scene in the car when Gillian mentally tells Sally about where the poison was so Sally can poison Jimmy was such a cool scene.

 I had seen it before, but it was like 8 years ago and I only remembered bits and pieces. At the time, I was actually feeling really down and I had put this on as a distraction and I remember it kept my attention and was a nice escape. Watching it this time around, I can definitely see it being a future go-to when it comes to comfort movies.

So when it comes to book vs movie, this time the movie wins!

By the way, covering this in spring might seem like weird timing since it is about withes. But the movie takes place in springtime so it is actually good timing!