Just for starters–no, this isn’t the film adaptation of the YA novel about witches (that book *is* about witches, right?). I’m sure both those works were lovely, but this film is wholly separate and unique. The dialogue’s great, the music’s nice, and the two female leads are absolutely captivating. I don’t know if Beautiful Creatures passes the Bechdel test, but who’s counting anyway when the men these women are talking about are men they’ve killed?
Beautiful Creatures was released in 2000 and directed by a man named Bill Eagles. Wikipedia (all hail) tells me Mr. Eagles also directed an episode of Fringe. I’ll take it. The movie stars Susan Lynch and Rachel Weisz as Dorothy and Petula, two women who find themselves fast friends after an unexpected occurrence brings them together.
Over the opening titles, we hear snippets of a playful conversation between Dorothy and Tony, Dorothy’s boyfriend. The subject is trivial: Tony is missing a set of golf clubs and asks Dorothy if she’s seen them. The situation quickly turns ugly–soon, he’s yelling profanities and as the characters come into focus, we see him barrelling down a train corridor after Dorothy, fist raised.
Though Dorothy manages to escape Tony’s physical violence, when she arrives to her apartment later that night, she realizes he’s trashed her apartment. Dorothy packs what she can and heads for the bus with her dog, Pluto, hoping to skip town and start a new life. Pluto has other plans.
Beautiful Creatures is categorized as a crime film, which is technically correct. Petula works for her boyfriend Brian’s brother–an organized crime boss who uses intimidation to get what he wants. Dorothy (sort of) murders Brian and (sort of) holds him ransom for one million pounds. There’s a crooked cop investigating the case, a duffel bag full of cash, and one heroic canine who aids both women in the end.
The themes of the film come as no surprise, but they’re balanced by the sweetness and depth of Dorothy and Petula’s growing friendship. Each woman has a genuine concern for the other, and as a result, the movie’s heart-warming as hell. It’s also devastatingly honest in its painting of male-female power dynamics.
Both women are targets of male violence, and the viewer is shown this in a variety of ways. Not only does each woman have an abusive spouse, they face aggression and intimidation at every level of their existence, from Petula’s cruel superiors at work to the corrupt detective inspector who abuses his power to break into women’s homes. There’s even a dweeby teenager who runs the local news-stand and flips through porno mags while waiting on customers. When Dorothy first notices this behavior, she doesn’t hesitate to voice her opinion on the subject. “You shouldn’t read that shite,” she tells him. “It seriously badly exploits women.”
Though Beautiful Creatures has just two female characters (with the exception of a secretary who remains mostly in the background), these characters are written with respect. They display the loyalty and compassion not always present in media portrayals of female friendships, but generally present in life. Hell, Dorothy’s a complete stranger to Petula, but she rushes to help her, even when it means putting herself at risk. That’s fucking impressive stuff.
I’m not sure why female bonds in film are so rarely given the significance they deserve, though undoubtedly the reason involves centuries of culturally ingrained misogyny. In too many movies, women’s relationships with each other are either trivialized to revolve around little more than shoes and boys or sexualized as a ploy to win male approval.
Although Beautiful Creatures offers a refreshing change of pace, the movie’s marketing nevertheless fell victim to the same tired tropes. “Three dangerous men. Two beautiful women. These poor guys don’t stand a chance!”, appears on the cover of the DVD. Poor guys, huh? Not to mention the fact that these women are more than beautiful–they are strong, relentless, and dynamic. The female friendships I’ve been so very fortunate to cultivate in my life are with similarly capable individuals. Just as with Dorothy and Petula, I know they’ve got my back—and that’s important for women in our world, with so much fighting against us.
By Juliette Faraone