Through the Book of the Month Club, I had an opportunity to purchase three of Alice Hoffman’s magical books including Rules of Magic, Practical Magic, and Magic Lessons. I’ve never read any of those before, but I remember watching Practical Magic (1998) starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman when I was a little kid. You know, thinking about it now, I’m not sure why I was allowed to watch that movie. It’s all about love, magic, death, and possession. But hey, it was the Wild West back then so, whatever.
Finishing the book, I wanted to re-watch the movie and see which was better. Since I haven’t written a BvF in a minute (as the kids say), I thought I’d take this opportunity to pit book verse film and see which was the better version.
With all BvFs, there is the standard spoiler warning. If you haven’t read the movie or watched the book (wait… strike that, reverse it), then I advise you to steer clear from this article. Maybe go check out Book of the Month Club and see if it’s something you’d like to enroll in. Don’t worry, they’re not a sponsor for this BvF.
However, if you do enroll, make sure to use this link https://www.mybotm.com/rtn5stqgp1h?show_box=true. By using this referral link, I’ll get a free book and you’ll enter into a great service that’s affordable and will allow you to read more. Win-win, in my opinion.
In a standard BvF, I will be comparing the characters, story, differences, and themes of both the book and the film. Then I’ll give my own conclusion on which I believe to be the better medium. Having said that, I am no academic or master of the literary arts. Opinions will vary and I’m sure you may or may not agree with me. Either way, let me know in the comments which version you prefer and why.
Now, onto the battle!
The two sets of sisters are the main protagonists of the story. Sally and Gillian are the older set while Kylie and Antonia are Sally’s daughters. Sally and Gillian are complete opposites. Sally is a black hair, grey eyed vegan who is older than her sister by 397 days. She also is very tidy and organized and ruled by “facts and figures.” She only believes in what can be explained. Gillian is a party girl that has a list of ex-lovers longer than a CVS receipt. This blonde sister is lazy and likes to travel around the country but will avoid settling down. She also refuses to travel anywhere east of the Mississippi River because it’s too close to their aunts.
Antonia is the oldest of Sally’s daughters. She’s a red head that wears mostly black. To some her up, “Antonia is greedy the way beautiful girls sometimes are, and she thinks quite well of herself.” Her sister, Kylie, is equally proficient in chess and soccer. She has one friend, Gideon, and once Gillian enters her life; Kylie starts to idolize her aunt.
As far as antagonists go, there really isn’t one. Sure, Gillian’s boyfriend Jimmy is a bad dude but he’s dead by the time Gillian shows up on Sally’s doorstep. For most of the book, he’s basically a low-grade poltergeist causes bad luck. Oh, and for some reason his body and spirit cause the lilacs in the backyard to grow out of control.
The side characters are the older sisters’ aunts, Frances and Jet Owens, and a love interest for each of the two sets of sisters: Gideon (Kylie), Ben (Gillian), Gary (Sally), and Scott (Antonia). You might as well not get invested in any of the side characters because you don’t see much of them except for Ben.
The book starts with an explanation about the Owens’ home on Magnolia Street. You get some backstory and character descriptions about Sally, Gillian, and briefly about Frances and Jet. Through the eyes of the Gillian and Sally you know that their aunts perform love rituals for the ladies of the town during the night. One of these rituals go terribly wrong for a girl that works at the local drugstore. The sisters are opposites like night and day. Gillian elopes with a mechanic when she’s eighteen, leaving Sally and the aunts. There’s a brief section about Gillian and how she hops from one state to another with various men. Sally falls in love with a guy, Michael, and they live in the aunt’s house. They have two daughters (Antonia and Kylie) and then Michael promptly dies because a deathwatch beetle says so. He gets ran over by a car full of drunk teenagers.
Sally spends a bunch of time in hardcore mourning. The aunts take care of the daughters during that time. When Sally eventually recovers, she moves her and her daughters to a neighborhood in New York. The daughters hate their mother for this because they love their great-aunts. Sally makes a concession to spend the month of August at the aunt’s house.
At this point, the story focuses on Antonia and Kylie for a bit much like the beginning of the story focused on Sally and Gillian. However, things take a turn when Gillian winds up on her sister’s doorstep with the dead body of Jimmy, Gillian’s boyfriend abuser, in Jimmy’s car. It’s been eighteen years since the two sisters have seen each other. Turns out, Gillian has slowly been poisoning Jimmy with nightshade. She wasn’t trying to kill him. She was only trying to make sure he slept at night instead of beating her.
Sally doesn’t call the cops. Instead, she and Gillian bury Jimmy in the backyard. Gillian moves in with Sally and her daughters. Sally becomes jealous of the bond that Kylie and Gillian have, there’s a bunch of bad luck brewing, and the lilacs grow out of control. Oh, I should mention that they buried Jimmy underneath the lilacs.
Tensions rise between both sets of sisters to the point that it finally explodes when Gillian gives Kylie a makeover for her thirteenth birthday. There’s a big confrontation between Gillian and Sally at a pizza place during Kylie’s birthday dinner. That’s when Ben comes into play and falls in love with Gillian. Kylie starts seeing the ghost of Jimmy in the backyard.
That’s when the bad luck begins. It creates more tension in the house. Ben won’t quit trying to contact Gillian. This is when Scott first appears at Antonia’s workplace. It’s also when Antonia realizes that she loves Scott. Tensions between Gillian and Sally bubble up again until Kylie says that she can see “the man under the lilacs.” Once the older sisters realize that Kylie is serious, they do the only sensible thing they can think of: they cut the lilacs down to the root.
There’s a brief interlude where Hoffman tells the sad tale of Maria Owens, the progenitor of the Owens women. Jet and Frances send a small portrait of Maria to the house. The portrait, combined with the extreme weeding, seems to do the trick. Gillian decides to take a chance with Ben and she falls head over heels with him.
Kylie and Gideon haven’t talked since that birthday dinner. Gideon didn’t like the makeover. Kylie decides to make amends by baking Gideon his favorite cake. As she’s walking over to his house, two drunk guys come out of a bar and decide to chase after Kylie. The reader is meant to believe that should the guys catch up to her, they would rape her. Kylie barely manages to escape, but the cake isn’t as lucky. Kylie runs to Antonia’s place of work and the older sister cares for the younger one and they seem to bond over the experience and grow closer as siblings. Gillian and Sally also start making amends to each other.
It doesn’t end there. Just like the film Napoleon Dynamite (2004), there’s yet more to the story even though things could end here.
Gideon and Kylie finally reunite and that’s when they realize they have rekindled their friendship over a game of chess. Everyone except for Gillian starts to pack up for their August trip to Frances and Jet’s house.
That’s when Sally’s love interest, Gary, shows up. Gary is searching for Jimmy. Turns out, Jimmy managed to accidently kill three college kids by selling them rattlesnake seeds and jimsonweed. “One seed of rattlesnake weed makes you euphoric, it’s like LSD growing free. The problem is, two can cause your death.”
For some idiotic reason, Gillian has kept Jimmy’s car which Gary readily identifies. Plus, there’s a ring that conveniently has been overlooked by literally everyone in the family. That ring belongs to, you guessed it, Jimmy.
Everything’s fine though because Gary, much like Ben, fell head over heels for the older Owens sister as soon as they locked eyes. Sally and Gillian lie about Jimmy’s whereabouts, but then later on Sally finds Gary and confesses everything. Gary says he’ll have to think about things even though the reader knows he won’t tell a soul.
Turn’s out, you can’t keep a dead guy down. There’s a flood that’s coming that threatens to unearth the rest of Jimmy’s corpse. The sister’s call their aunts for help. Jet and Frances, this is the first time you see their proper names by the way, come immediately.
The aunts tell Gillian that the dosage of nightshade used on Jimmy wasn’t enough to kill him. Turns out, you never know how Jimmy died, but you know that it wasn’t Gillian’s fault. Of course, that wouldn’t stand up in a court of law because they still hide the body and interfered with the investigation. The aunts concoct something that “dissolves what once was flesh.”
Jimmy’s gone and they all live happily ever after. Every lady has true love.
The film begins with Maria Owens about to be hung by a bunch of pilgrims. There’s a voice over with the two aunts (Frances and Jet) and the two nieces (younger versions of Sally and Gillian) that contains the first line of the book. Well, almost the same. It talks about Maria and calls her a “heartbreaker” because she’s had relations with a lot of the men in the town. They tried to hang her for being a witch, but she jumped off the gallows and the rope snapped. They then banished her to an island for some reason.
At least the film explains the curse. They even hear the deathwatch beetle for Sally and Gillian’s father. Most of Sally and Gillian’s childhood is the same as the novel. The aunts still perform love rituals for the women of the town.
Gillian watches Sally perform a true love spell. She picks the most impossible man because she never wants to fall in love. Because if she doesn’t fall in love, she’ll never die of a broken heart like their mother.
Fast forward years later. This is where Sandra Bullock is now portraying Sally and Nicole Kidman is portraying Gillian. Their personalities are the same and Gillian still elopes with a dude leaving Sally with the aunts. They make a blood pact to stay together even though Gillian runs off.
Sally still falls in love with a produce dude like in the book. She has two children called Antonia and Kylie.
Gillian falls in love with Jimmy, perfectly played by Goran Visnjic.
Sally hears the deathwatch beetle again and starts to panic. The husband gets ran over by a truck instead of some drunk teens. Sally finds out that the aunts cast a spell to make Sally fall in love. She wants the aunts to bring Michael back, but the aunts refuse. They explain that if they brought him back, it wouldn’t be him. It’d be something dark. Foreshadowing the future.
Sally and her daughters move in with the aunt. Sally still gets depressed, but nothing like in the book.
Gillian leaves Jimmy and goes back home to wake Sally from her depression.
After her time of mourning, Sally opens a potions shop. But apparently Gillian left right before that because Sally is writing her a letter. Either that, or it was just a vision? That bit was confusing.
Sally has some internal monologues while showing that she is practicing magic. Sally gets a call from Gillian asking her to come and help. Gillian’s in some trouble. When Sally does get to where her sister is, she finds that Gillian has been physically abused by Jimmy over a donut. Gillian gets assaulted by Jimmy and kidnaps the two of them, forcing Sally to drive them somewhere. Gillian tells her sister that there is belladonna is in her purse. Sally poisons the bottle and Jimmy dies. Clearly, this is a case of self-defense, but the sisters decide not to resurrect the dude at the aunt’s house. The aunts are gone to some magical convention so they can’t stop their nieces.
During the resurrection spell, Sally has to draw a star across Jimmy’s corpse and for some reason, she decides to eat some of the whip cream… OFF THE CORPSE! Ew!
Except, Jimmy’s not exactly dead. He wakes up and tries to strangle Gillian for the second time that night. Sally decides to whack him over the head with a frying pan a few times. Then they bury him.
Gillian helps Sally out with being chosen for the PTO phone tree in a pretty funny scene. There are some vines that are growing from where the dead Jimmy lies. It’s soooo foreboding.
There’s another great scene about midnight margaritas paired with the Lime in the Coconut song. Frances, Jet, Gillian, and Sally all dance around the kitchen while singing to the song and drinking margaritas. They get really, really drunk. But it’s a bonding moment so there’s that. Gillian gets freaked out when she realizes that they’re drinking from the same bottle that Jimmy drank from.
The aunts decide to leave the house to teach Sally and Gillian a lesson. Kylie can see Jimmy’s spirit underneath the rose bushes. That’s when they realize that the aunts left. Jimmy’s boots start to show, but then they sink back into the earth when Gillian notices. Sally chops all the roses down and as she does, Gary Hallet shows up. Gary’s trying to find Jimmy. They try to lie to Gary, but he obviously knows something’s off. Turns out, Jimmy’s a lady killer.
Gary goes through a montage of him questioning the villagers about the Owens sisters.
Gillian wakes up and can feel Jimmy’s presence. The next morning, Gillian enlists her nieces to banish Gary. He comes over for breakfast to question Sally. That’s when the viewer realizes that Gary is the person that Sally wished for. Gary finds Jimmy’s ring when a toad spits it out. Gary tells them to get a good attorney and to not leave town.
Gillian and Sally fight. Sally goes to tell Gary the truth even though Gillian protests. Gary and Sally talk, Sally confesses that she killed Jimmy. Then, of course, they make out. When Sally realizes that he’s her true love she leaves to go back to the house. She hears her children in distress.
Turns out, Jimmy is possessing Gillian through his ring. Gary comes by and confronts Jimmy’s spirit form. Jimmy flees from Gary’s badge. Gary believes that his badge has power and that’s the thing that forces Jimmy to flee.
Sally tries to explain things to Gary about her true love spell. They part ways.
Jimmy isn’t gone though, he’s back in Gillian. Sally knocks out Gillian just when the two aunts come back. They bind her to a chair. Sally calls everyone on the phone tree because they need a full coven to expel Jimmy. All the women come together to perform the ritual to ban the dude from Gillian.
Gary cover’s up Jimmy’s death. Sally and Gary get back together. The next Halloween all the Owens ladies jump off their house as people watch. But don’t worry, they float down to the ground.
It should be very obvious to the reader that the two main themes in this book is love and sisterhood. The last line of the book reads “Fall in love whenever you can” for Pete’s sake. But it should be said that it is equally important to love your siblings. The book stresses this. While some readers might think that the spirit of Jimmy is the reason for the turmoil in Sally’s household, it could also be interpreted that there was only turmoil when there was unrest between the siblings. Once each sister found peace with the other, and Gillian made peace with the aunts, all the conflict died down.
The film also shares this theme but focuses more on the love between sisters.
In my opinion, the film adaptation levitates over the book. The casting is superb, the music choices are nostalgic but delightful, and the antagonist is clear. The film’s Jimmy gives something the entire Owens family to band together against while the book’s Jimmy is little more than a nuisance.
While the book does focus more on romance and true love for each girl, the movie is focused solely on Sally and Gary. Antonia and Kylie aren’t old enough to fall in love and Ben Frye isn’t even mentioned in the movie. This creates a story that’s not clunky by involving too many romance plots. The book felt like the plot lines for each romance tangle up like that box of Christmas lights we all have in the garage.
The movie is simple, easy to follow, reduces the number of characters, and has a strong antagonist. Plus, Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances are just fun to watch than their novel versions. Do you agree with my verdict? Let me know in the comments ‘witch’ version
Categories: Book vs Film (BvF)