Witch movies of the ’90s will always hold a special place in my heart. In particular, Practical Magic — which came out a full 20 years ago, in 1998 — remains one of my all-time favorite movies to this day.
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The cast is impeccable. Although the film is from early in both Sandra Bullock’s and Nicole Kidman’s careers, they are both effervescent as Sally and Gillian Owens, respectively, opposite Stockard Channing and Dianne West as Aunt Fran and Aunt Jet, who are at turns frightening in their power and doting in their care. This cast of women embodies the importance of women-only safe spaces and provides a dynamic, compelling narrative about the danger of abusive men and the power of women banding together to cast them out.
Practical Magic is billed as a romantic comedy, but it spends the majority of its 1 hour, 44 minute runtime exploring a far more compelling relationship: Sally and Gillian’s sisterhood. It’s a movie about witches with a rare happy ending that props itself up on horror to make its emotional beats land. In 20 years, it’s taught me some incredibly important life lessons. Below are just a few of the most resonant.
1. Love comes in many forms
https://media.giphy.com/media/k4wiQYuOl8K4/giphy.gifIt can seem like finding a romantic soulmate is our One True Purpose in life, but truthfully, it’s not. Although the Owens sisters seem deeply preoccupied with finding romance in Practical Magic, the emotional core of the film is their strong familial relationships.
Practical Magic provides romance in spades, but it also tackles abuse, grief and the importance of finding people who will support you and love you no matter what, even when life is as bad as it can possibly be. Although this film shows blood family with strong ties, creating those ties with others is completely possible, too. Genuine connections that exist outside of romantic love are integral to our growth and stability as people, which this film demonstrates beautifully through its core cast of characters. In particular, the moment when Sally lies with Gillian as she struggles to fight off possession by her abusive ex-boyfriend shines a light on just how powerful sisterhood can be.
2. Everyone has a little bit of magic in them (no, really)
https://media.giphy.com/media/OPna1zuuzHWx2/giphy.gifOne of the best moments in Practical Magic is when Sally activates the PTA phone tree to ask for help in casting out Gillian’s possessor. When the women of the town arrive bearing brooms (and, in one case, a vacuum) to help cast the spell and create a circle of protection, not knowing anything about the practicalities of witchcraft, it’s a powerful demonstration. In this moment, these women are setting aside all of their differences to support one of their own in her time of need. In the process, they realize that for all their quaking about magic being unnatural, they all have a little bit of magic in them.
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3. You can’t avoid tragedy
https://media.giphy.com/media/IeFxsX2wKa8X6/giphy.gifLife is unpredictable, which means that bad things can happen as easily as good or neutral things. Trying to avoid tragedy — like young Sally does when she dreams up an “impossible” man so that she’ll never fall in love and will never deal with heartbreak — only ends up hurting us more. Fearing death and attempting to avoid loss won’t make the likelihood of those events any lesser. It will just make us feel worse when they inevitably happen and we blame ourselves for not doing more to keep them at bay.
4. Abusive relationships can do irreparable damage
https://media.giphy.com/media/qEiY2YPv9NcAM/giphy.gifKidman’s character actually breaks my heart in this movie. Leaving an abusive relationship is hard — so hard, in fact, that according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, most survivors leave their abusers seven times before staying away for good. In 2017, HuffPost reported that 55 percent of women murdered between 2003 and 2014 in at least 18 states were victims of domestic violence. In Practical Magic, Gillian’s abuser, Jimmy (played by Goran Visnjic), is murdered, but he doesn’t even leave her alone once he’s dead — thus cementing the fact that abuse is real, persistent and terrifying. Gillian is lucky to have such a solid and powerful support system in this movie; not all survivors are so lucky.
5. Adulthood changes the way you see the world
https://media.giphy.com/media/gPr8bbj9vpSg0/giphy.gifWould that we could all stay kids forever, but growing up definitely gives us new perspectives on childhood fears and experiences. Since Practical Magic follows the Owens girls from childhood to adulthood, we get to see them grow up, grow apart and reunite. Who they are and who they thought they would be are very different women, which is honestly a good thing — the ability to look back on our experiences and learn from them is huge. Having people to remind us of who we were is great, but it’s not always possible. In any case, being an adult is usually different from how we thought it would be as kids, which Sally and Gillian have to grapple with throughout the film.
6. Sometimes we have to make mistakes in order to learn
https://media.giphy.com/media/vrTTHdEmPsgMg/giphy.gifAs tough as it is to accept, making mistakes is how we learn to do better. Hopefully, our mistakes aren’t so big that we can’t fix them or come back from them, but life is unpredictable. When things don’t work out — whether it’s relationships, spellwork or moving to a new town — we have to pick up the pieces and keep going.
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7. Other times, we have to know when to let go
https://media.giphy.com/media/oJW9CSyD4btcs/giphy.gifRaise your hand if your aunts are cool enough to drink margaritas and dance around your childhood home with you. One of the most iconic scenes in Practical Magic is the tequila scene, which admittedly ends on a dark note — but out of context, it illustrates something really important: Sometimes, you just have to let loose and ignore the bad stuff for a little while.
8. Being “normal” is way overrated
https://media.giphy.com/media/J1c9qExGXRZgA/giphy.gif“Being normal is not necessarily a virtue; it rather denotes a lack of courage.” Practical Magic certainly isn’t the only film to touch on this, especially where witches are concerned, but it’s one that really embraces the fact that normalcy is relative. By the end of the movie, the Owenses are no longer feared by the townspeople (at least, not as much as they were), and happily ever after includes having some semblance of belonging among people who don’t practice magic every day. This movie encourages everyone to embrace their oddities and wear them proudly.
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