It’s always awkward when a movie clearly has good intentions, but is unable to realize them in a way that could be called original or worse, truly enjoyable. I want to praise Half Magic, which is the writing and directing debut of actress (and fellow Milwaukeean) Heather Graham. It’s heartfelt, and it’s obviously a very personal project informed by decades of experience in an industry where the full extent of its harsh treatment of women is only presently coming to light. That’s not to say Half Magic is completely terrible, it just fails to fully come together. Even if the humor wasn’t so uneven, it would still fail to overcome an offering stuffed full of cliches, from the plot to the characters to the lessons it imparts.
Graham plays Honey (no, really), a woman stifled by the messages imparted in her Catholic upbringing, which tell her that sex is wrong and punishable by hellfire unless it takes place in the context of marriage, thus masochistically keeping her attracted to jerks in order to chastise herself accordingly. It also stunts her career as a writer, keeps her from speaking out against the misogyny in her workplace and creating her own positive, female-centric projects. Fed up and frustrated, she sees a flyer for a women’s empowerment group and decides she doesn’t have anything to lose by attending.
And she does gain quite a bit, mostly because of the friends she makes there, Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) and Eva (Angela Kinsey) who have their own issues. Eva is still pining for the husband (Thomas Lennon) who left her for a 19-year-old, while Candy is a free spirit who is tolerating a guy so shamelessly commitment-phobic he asks her to do his laundry while he’s off sleeping with other women.
Beatriz and Kinsey are known for their TV work, and they both play against type here, with Kinsey far more insecure and vulnerable than she ever was as an icy accountant on The Office, and Beatriz especially shining as a wide-eyed, sunny romantic who couldn’t be further from the tough-talking, guarded Rosa on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But their comedic talent is apparent in spite of Graham’s writing, not because of it. Graham goes for broad humor in every sense, which turns every person and situation into a caricature. It’s a missed opportunity more frustrating than most, because practically every scene is dripping with the potential for the kind of sharp satire that a Hollywood insider could bring, especially in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up.
Instead, we get the same old lessons, developments, and wish fulfillment, including too-perfect guys who come to the rescue after a conveyor belt of jerks. Maybe if Graham had made use of a co-writer to offset her own inexperience, Half Magic wouldn’t feel quite so rote. Hopefully this project is a stepping stone to better things.
Actress Heather Graham aims for feminist cinema in her writing and directing debut, but delivers a plot stuffed with cliches and miss opportunities.
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