Writer-director Richard LaGravenese has adapted the popular young adult series "Beautiful Creatures" into a lush Southern Gothic starring an impressive cast of distinguished actors. The story chronicles how 16-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) meets the girl of his dreams (literally) on the first day of his junior year. Ethan lives in Gatlin, S.C., a Southern town so small and so stuck in its ways the Civil War is still referred to as the War of Northern Aggression. But beautiful and mysterious Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) is unlike anyone Ethan's ever encountered: she's brilliant, well-traveled, and, also, she's a witch -- or "caster" as her family prefers to be called.

Unfortunately for Ethan, Lena's reclusive uncle Macon (Jeremy Irons) doesn't want her dating anyone, much less a mortal who could pose a danger to her claiming day -- her 16th birthday -- when she will be "claimed" for either good or evil. Not that a birthday or a curse or anything else could keep these kids apart. Teens, especially those familiar with the books, will be curious to see the latest YA adaptation. Nut there's plenty for adults to enjoy as well, especially the performances by Irons, Viola Davis (Ethan's auntie of sorts) and Emma Thompson (who does double duty as a bigoted Southern mom and a witch).

Here are issues to consider or discuss before seeing the movie with your kids.

1. Forbidden Love: As in the majority of fantasy films, Ethan and Lena are from opposite worlds -- she's a witch, and he's a mortal. And like other star-crossed lovers, the young couple must overcome countless obstacles to be together. But even as the clock keeps ticking, Ethan stands by her side to attempt to keep the powers of darkness from claiming his beloved. You can compare Ethan and Lena's love story to other similarly doomed-seeming couples, like Katniss and Peeta of "Hunger Games" or Edward and Bella of "Twilight."

2. Witchy Woman: While Lena is sometimes unable to control her powers, her older cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) knows exactly how she affects men. A dark caster, Ridley's a siren who lures men to do whatever she wants them to -- from the macabre (standing in front of an oncoming train, shooting a gun) to the mundane. She prances around in slinky, skin-tight clothes and is frequently seen flirting with or making out with Linc, Ethan's best friend. The night of her "claiming," Ridley kills a man with her powers.

3. Finally, A Nice Guy: Those familiar with Young Adult novels probably know that one of the most common tropes in paranormal romances is the edgy bad boy with the hidden heart of gold. It's as ubiquitous a fixture in teen lit as love triangles, but authors Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia decided to make their protagonist the kind of guy they didn't get the chance to date in high school -- so Ethan is a sensitive, supportive boyfriend. In fact, the only reason Lena's relatives deem him "unsuitable" has nothing to do with generosity and everything to do with his mortality. Otherwise, Ethan is the picture of the perfect boyfriend.

4. For the Love of Banned Books: Both Lena and Ethan have fairly sophisticated taste in literature, particularly for living in such an insular small town as Gatlin. Ethan loves Kurt Vonnegut, while Lena is a devotee of Charles Bukowski's poetry. During a conversation about "To Kill a Mockingbird," a couple of students claim they can't read the classic novel, because it's a Banned Book. Ethan and Lena's willingness to read acclaimed but controversial works is portrayed in stark contrast to most of the townsfolk, who are closed minded about pretty much everything. Consider this an opportune time to discuss your family's thoughts on the subject.

5. Read It, Then See It: Young adult literature is so popular right now that even if your teen didn't have "Beautiful Creatures" on her to-read list, seeing the movie as an incentive will make her want to delve into the Caster Chronicles universe. There are considerable differences between the movie and the book, so reading the first installment even after checking out the movie won't be a bore. Despite it's hefty length, the story flies by as you immerse yourself in Ethan and Lena's bond as they desperately try to find a way for Lena to "claim" the light.

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CATEGORIES Movies