Film Review: Half Magic

A nice tale of female empowerment that is more nice than empowering.
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In her writing and directorial debut, actress Heather Graham has tackled women’s issues head-on—and squarely on-the-nose. Her Half Magic stars a host of wonderful comedians, including Angela Kinsey from “The Office,” Thomas Lennon from “Reno 911” and, all too briefly, Rhea Pearlman and Molly Shannon. (I do not know why Shannon continues to make short-lived appearances in movies that do not do her justice. I also do not know if Hollywood’s failure to give her a starring vehicle is a woman’s issue, an ageist issue or an issue of taste, but it is an issue.) Without saying much that is new or insightful about female friendship or insecurity, Half Magic is a perfectly nice, simplistic movie, perhaps best viewed with cocktails or after a breakup, and one that, in our current #MeToo climate, will ruffle no one’s feathers.

Honey (Graham) is an aspiring screenwriter dating the a-hole a-list actor for whom she helps develop projects. Hoping to reclaim a measure of her long-lost self-esteem, she attends a women’s empowerment meeting, in which participants decked out in pink are told to say things to one another like “My bodacious ta-tas honor me, and they honor you.” Here she meets the famous fashion designer Eva St. Claire (Kinsey) and a free-spirited “witch” of sorts, Candy (Stephanie Beatriz, eminently watchable and the most entertaining of the trio). The women bond with remarkable rapidity. Soon they’re lighting candles at the shop where Candy works, attempting to cast spells that will help them with their woe-begotten love lives. Honey hopes to have great sex with someone who is nice to her, Eva wants to get back with her ex-husband, and Candy is desperate to be monogamous with her tech-bro lover.

Whether or not the candles are to blame, or the girls’ desire to believe in them, things do begin to change. Of course, not everything they thought they wanted turns out to be what is best for them. And, of course, the greatest love of all is inside of me, and all we need to get by is a little help from our friends.

In a publicity note, Graham says, “I want to empower women to feel good about themselves and make better choices. I want to celebrate women enjoying their sexuality and finding their pleasure. I want to celebrate how strong we are and how we can create anything we want.” These are admirable ideas, but they suffer in Half Magic from being stated outright, rather than left for the story to dramatize through its comedy. (The best comedy contains an element of pathos, which is missing here.) In several scenes, Honey & Co. tell each other how to live their lives: When someone gives you a compliment, say, “Thank you, I know.” Date “good guys only.” Be confident. Love yourself. Is this good advice? Sure. But have we come to the film in expectation of a seminar, and one that is composed of platitudes, however well intentioned, at that? Much of the movie’s “empowering” talk sounds so simplistic it borders on didacticism. At times its liberal, moralizing tone makes the film feel as if it were intended for a younger, adolescent audience in search of a moral, though the explicit sex talk and sex and masturbating scenes make that unlikely.

Half Magic has its moments (the druggie artist named “Freedom” whom Honey dates is not only warmly funny, the music that accompanies his scenes is the best of the film) and, given Graham’s firsthand knowledge of the biz, one wonders just how close to her experiences some of the industry satire is. It is certainly a nice movie, in the sense that it is trying very hard to say something nice. Only, because its ideas are stated over and over again, we can only acknowledge rather than feel empowered by them.

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