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    Ambitious and Uneven Half Magic Is More Important Than Good

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Heather Graham directs, writes, and stars in Half Magic, an ambitious and uneven comedy about female empowerment. The film, which opens theatrically at the Presidio and is also available on demand, presents an important message to women: that they need to release the shame they feel in order to get what they deserve.

    In the era of the #MeToo movement, this is a worthwhile lesson, and some of the most squirm-inducing humor in the film stems from Honey (Graham) a Development Girl in Hollywood, being harassed and verbally abused by her boss/lover, action film star Peter Brock (Chris D’Elia). He calls her “Big Boobs,” demeans her ideas in meetings as well as her ambitions to become a writer, and then tramples on what’s left of her self-esteem by embarrassing her in front of colleagues or begging her to perform sexual acts on him even after they have broken up.

    That these experiences stem from Graham’s own life is unfortunate and unsurprising. The film’s initial scenes show the young Honey being taught that sex is shameful by her father (Bob Rumnock) as well as her priest, Father Gary (Johnny Knoxville), who speaks zealously about hell from his pulpit.

    Half Magic soon has Honey taking part in a Divine Feminine workshop led by a Mistress Valesca (Molly Shannon), who encourages women to appreciate their own bodies and to yield to the “power” of their sexuality. It is at this workshop where Honey meets Candy (bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz) and Eva (Angela Kinsey).

    The three women become fast friends, in part, because they help each other to overcome their low self-esteem. Candy is having trouble with her boyfriend, Daniel (Alex Beh), who refuses to be monogamous; he even expects Candy to do his laundry while he goes off and sleeps with other women. Eva humiliates herself by calling her ex-husband, Darren (Thomas Lennon), who ran off with a 19-year-old, and leaves him a string of increasingly disgraceful voice messages.

    When Candy introduces Eva and Honey to some magic candles, suddenly their wishes come true. Honey meets a hot guy, Freedom (Luke Arnold), and they have great sex. Candy stands up to Daniel and refuses to cater to his needs. And Eva meets an old friend, Mike (Jason Lewis), who confesses he always had a crush on her and gives her the best sex of her life.

    Half Magic generates its comedy from the broad humor that is used to show how the trio of women learn, but don’t always appreciate, the new and positive developments in their lives. Honey has trouble being sexual; she must understand how to give herself pleasure so she can receive it from others. Candy wants to share her life with someone who will not only be monogamous but also respect her and appreciate the same things she does. Lastly, Eva finds herself drawn back into a relationship with Darren that is perhaps no less toxic that it was before.

    These are realistic situations women face, and Graham’s comedy explores why women make bad dating decisions and choose “not good guys.” Half Magic features satiric humor in several of it sex scenes. In one, Eva has her first experiences receiving oral sex. She talks and talks, worried about how she appears “down there” while simultaneously moaning in pleasure. The juxtaposition of female gratification and low self-esteem is echoed in another sex scene where Honey alternates moaning and saying, “I’m sorry,” because she feels shame when she experiences pleasure because of her religious upbringing.

    Alas, Half Magic also features cringe-worthy scenes as when Peter tells Honey she is to monitor the erectness of nipples on a video game. It is as absurd as it is shocking and unfunny. Likewise, when Eva tries to prevent a conflict between Darren and Mike, the two guys get into a childish fight that is stupid and silly. These scenes reinforce the fact that the film’s characters, male and female, all seem to be in various stages of arrested development. It becomes difficult to sympathize with them, even when they deserve it, because they never seem like real people, however, true their behavior is.

    That said, the few magical realistic elements in the film, involving orgasms and candles, are quite charming.

    Given its episodic nature, Graham’s well-intentioned film probably plays better as a television series than a feature. She coaxes ingratiating performances out of her co-stars. Stephanie Beatriz is infectious as the high-energy Candy, and Angela Kinsey has some amusing moments as Eva. Ultimately, however, Half Magic is more important than it is good. The message that women need to stand up and speak out for themselves is as timely than ever. If this film’s exaggerated humor gets that point across, it is not half bad. It’s just a shame Graham’s film isn’t better.

    © 2018 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer