Making her directorial and screenwriting debut with Half Magic, Heather Graham explores the journey three women take on the road to finding their voices amid sexism and their own insecurities. While its intentions are good, the film often feels heavy-handed and its ideas only half-formed. It’s hard not to nod your head in understanding when the characters get rightfully angry about the way they are treated, but it’s also hard to take it very seriously, either.
Honey (Heather Graham) is a writer in Hollywood. She works for the excessively sexist Peter (Chris D’Elia), who always says awful things and produces movies that relish in using violence against women. Honey is dating him at first, but there’s only so long a woman can handle a man saying “I respect women, but no one wants to watch movies about them.” While trying new things, she attends a seminar meant to empower women and pave the way toward loving themselves. While there, she meets and befriends Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) and Eva (Angela Kinsey) and the three of them begin to empower themselves by believing in the magic of some witchcraft–they light candles, make a wish, and watch things as they change. Ultimately, they realize that the real sense of empowerment and getting what you want comes from finding your own self worth and voice while understanding that tackling hurdles is part of the process.
The film’s tone banks on a silly sense of humor even while exploring some not-so-silly issues that women come face-to-face with quite often. And while there’s nothing wrong with humor, the film is silly enough to the point that it takes away from some of the points Half Magic does touch upon. These topics range from seeking validation from men, to feeling insecure in an environment in media that makes it its job to objectify and be violent towards women, and also loving yourself enough to know when certain relationships are harming you.
Graham’s script is fun and strange, sometimes engaging, but oftentimes scattered. There are genuinely funny moments, but the issue is that the friendships are rushed and the plot moves in a way that’s too aware of the fact that it’s trying to get to the nicely wrapped ending. The movie takes sexist men to task and, while some of their behavior seems exaggerated, the things that come out of their mouths is unfortunately not unusual. So while the message of the film is wonderful, a lot of it is lost in its half-hearted execution.
Graham’s Honey is obviously the most developed character in Half Magic, blending talent with realistic views on not feeling good enough or simply going through the motions. Her newfound friendships with Candy and Eva don’t quite bloom in the way one would hope given the essential nature of the film, however. While it’s nice to get to see Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) play another kind of character than the one we’re used to seeing her as, it’s also unfortunate that her character comes off as a bit of a ditz and is the least developed of the three women. She often takes a backseat in terms of individual story, which is a shame because her character has a lot more potential. Honey might take center stage, but Angela Kinsey’s (The Office) Eva gets plenty of quality screen time, setting her up to be the heart of the film with a fairly fleshed out story.
Half Magic isn’t as scintillating or as deep as it wants to be. It overtly criticizes the movie industry, and rightfully so, but it still doesn’t feel good enough. The film plays fast and loose with Hollywood’s rampant sexism, but the film never takes it as seriously as it should and plays a lot of it up for laughs. Everything about the film feels kind of whimsical. It’s a journey for the three women to find their voices and empower themselves, but it does ultimately fall flat. Its sense of realism is far too wrapped up in the magical nature of the candles Candy sells at her job and the plot, in trying to give all three characters opportune moments, can’t come together well enough for a solid finale. While Half Magic has some elements that could have made it a great film, the pieces never fall into place.