Heather Graham wants to rage about women’s treatment and portrayal in Hollywood, topics especially relevant in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. But Half Magic, her writing and directing debut, isn’t the best medium for the message.
The film is a hodgepodge of female friendship, sexual empowerment, predictable romance, and industry satire with no clear narrative spine to tie it together. It’s a series of vignettes, with few laughs—but lots of heavy-handed dialogue—in what’s billed as a romantic comedy. Half Magic tries too hard in the wrong places.
Graham is perhaps best known as Rollergirl, the porn star from 1997’s Boogie Nights who never doffed her roller skates, and liberated spy Felicity Shagwell of 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Even in raunchy material, she could convey an endearing sweetness or bewilderment at the nuttier circumstances of her characters.
Here, Graham plays Honey, an aspiring screenwriter who works for dim-bulb action star Peter (Chris D’Elia of TV’s Undateable). We first see him having sex with a disengaged Honey before an interview to discuss Bros Before Hos, or some other recent project.
“Nobody wants to hear about women’s stories,” he tells Honey, in one of many on-the-nose moments that we suspect Graham has heard in real life. (She’s shared her experience with disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein and appeared in Two Girls and a Guy, directed by James Toback, whom hundreds of women have accused of harassment.)
Peter also designs a video game with a virgin as a prize and “sluts” to shoot in the breasts or private parts. The disgusted Honey doesn’t find another job, because “it’s hard to find work in the movie business.”
Instead, she says things like, “Why does the woman who enjoys sex have to die in horror films?” Rhea Perlman (TV’s The Mindy Project) appears briefly to rise to her defense, but in that workplace, Honey, you’re swimming upstream.
Honey makes fast friends at a seminar hosted by Mistress Valesca (Molly Shannon, in a feather boa) to honor their “bodacious tatas” and other parts. Divorced fashion designer Eva (Angela Kinsey of The Office) is all nervous energy, but New Age “hope-ologist” Candy (Stephanie Beatriz of TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine) says it gives her confidence. She invites Honey and Eva to the store where she sells candles that when lit supposedly grant wishes.
The three wish for hot sex, love, and to like themselves, all in that order. Honey falls for an artist (Luke Arnold of TV’s Black Sails) with a drug problem who helps her get over her Catholic guilt about sex, oblivious to her kind coworker (Michael Aronov of TV’s The Americans). Eva has a fling with a newly divorced friend (Jason Lewis of TV’s Midnight, Texas) but can’t seem to forget about her ex (Thomas Lennon of TV’s Lethal Weapon). And Candy can’t get her longtime boyfriend (Alex Beh) to commit to monogamy, although he loves her doing his laundry.
There’s a warm camaraderie in the women’s scenes together, especially over their frank talk about sex and desires. But the pace lags. The audience swiftly figures out these women deserve better while they can’t get out of their own way. Any romantic nuances get lost amid pronouncements like, “A person can be smart and have big boobs.”
Half Magic has something to prove when it should have had a sharper focus and more storytelling magic.