Half Magic, 2018.
Written and Directed by Heather Graham
Starring Heather Graham, Angela Kinsey, Stephanie Beatriz, Chris D’Elia, Thomas Lennon, Luke Arnold, Molly Shannon, Jason Lewis, Rhea Perlman, and Johnny Knoxville
Explores themes of female empowerment through sex, work, and friendship. These women are able to come together through their frustration over male dominance and in fact use their newly formed sisterhood to lean on each other and understand that they must first learn to love themselves before doing anything else.
As far as outlandish plot devices go, magic candles capable of granting obnoxious and gossipy middle-aged women plagued with self-esteem and relationship issues their own fantasy worlds is overload. Directed, written by, and starring Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, The Hangover trilogy, Twin Peaks), Half Magic is pulling from past life experiences in an effort to highlight her mistakes (the same many females make) for some cautionary wisdom regarding sex and love, along with how they directly relate to one another, but the satirical elements and comedy are laid on too thick, unfortunately rendering this admirable slice of feministic empowerment mostly annoying and sometimes downright insufferable.
For example, take the segment where our three unhappy female protagonists meet; it’s at an over-the-top sexual seminar containing cringe-inducing dialogue referencing the beauty of their boobs and vaginas. Now, keep in mind that I am all for body positivity, but the lecture here lacks any subtlety or fascinating point to make. Aggressively proclaiming private parts as elegant adds nothing worthwhile to that conversation, especially factoring in the vapidity of these three personalities. At its core, Half Magic is a comedy about coming to terms with negatively consequential life decisions and understanding what encourages those choices to be made, but that doesn’t excuse cliché characters and predictable narratives.
It’s also difficult not to feel that most of these women are simply flat-out shallow; a good portion of the movie is centered on Honey (Heather Graham as an aspiring screenwriter fighting tooth and nail in the male-dominated world of filmmaking, but more on that fairly decent subplot later) and her falling head over heels for a drug addicted hippie on the sole reason that he tells women what they want to hear and that he is a sexual beast in the bedroom. There are bad sympathetic decisions and there are stupid people, unfortunately, Half Magic displays is the latter.
However, it most definitely feels as if Heather Graham is onto something with her exaggerated portrayal of the film industry, as male superiors constantly elicit a gender superiority while thirsting for sex. Honey counter pitches her director boss (an unacceptably crude and sexist type played by Chris D’Elia) a horror feature where the “sluts” are able to defeat whenever supernatural entity it is that is haunting them by embracing sexuality, uniting it, and basically showing strength. Unsurprisingly, he immediately dismisses the concept (Honey’s only supporter is a female producer on board played by Rhea Perlman) and doubles down on his own filthiness by putting into production a video game where players are awarded points for murdering whores. Stereotypically, the designer is an overweight, sexist young male (this is not the current common depiction of a gamer anymore, so all humor crashes and burns), but the studio rivalry between woman and man is certainly one of the more engaging subplots to be found within Half Magic.
Also spread throughout the film are struggles for Honey’s newfound friends (played by Angela Kinsey and Stephanie Beatriz) that are as poorly written as most everything else to be found, receiving nowhere near enough time to be effective. Briefly, dynamics such as domination are explored but done so as a terrible joke that once again falls flat and fails to give the experience any depth. It’s just a bunch of cheap laughs involving women getting their revenge on various different guys for being treated like crap. I wouldn’t say it never feels mean-spirited, but for whatever reason, I was never compelled to actively root for the women. Strip out much of the nauseating attempts at comedy, narrow the narrative down to focusing on the plight of one woman searching for happiness or understanding her own sexuality and power as a female (as previously mentioned, Heather Graham has the only arc that’s mildly worth a damn), really dive into that particular character, and then Half Magic probably wouldn’t be half bad.
The script also has its fair share of criticism leveled at religion due to its prudish thought process on sexuality, but it’s another element that feels tossed in just for the sake of doing so. A few people might get a quick laugh out of Johnny Knoxville playing up a priest caricature, while everyone else sighs at how amateurishly the point of religion being bad is conveyed. Honestly, that might be the biggest disappointment as the dynamic between sexuality and religion is usually fascinating to explore, if done correctly.
Half Magic is an onslaught of thoughts crammed into one film that cannibalizes each other leaving us with annoying characters and half-baked themes that say nothing. Still, I admire what Heather Graham was going for with her directorial debut (it’s definitely coming at the right time), but there’s not a fraction of magic here, let alone half. She deserves credit for trying, so I will wish into a candle that she gets another crack at creating another project, whether it explores feminism or not. If the industry can continue to stomp out cockroaches like Chris D’Elia’s overblown but still partially truthful to real life sexual deviant, there is a strong possibility that it can happen.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com
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