The slightly preternatural Half Magic is a witches’ brew of female desire, a muddled-up potion in which a trinity of Los Angelenas wish for sexual, romantic, and personal fulfillment by lighting special candles they hope will illuminate the way to happier lives. Only in California, right? A guileless comedy without any tricks up its sleeve, the movie attempts to satirically explore the single-ladies world of bad dates, bad boyfriends, and bad bosses in the age of the #MeToo zeitgeist, but it does little more than nibble on the ubiquitous sexism that women experience, without really chomping down on its ugliness. You could say it’s toothless most of the time.
The film begins promisingly at a Divine Feminine workshop led by a comically fearless Shannon, who leads the attendees in chants urging them to love and honor their vaginas, and other womanly body parts, all in the pursuit of self-esteem. Meeting each other for the first time at the seminar, three single ladies lock arms to embark on a series of (mis)adventures in their relationships with druggie artists, commitment-phobic steadies, selfish ex-husbands, and misogynistic employers who make Harvey Weinstein look like an angel. As the movie mogul/action star who’s either incessantly talking about his cock or referring to every female as a slut, the neurotically needy asshole played by an oily D’Elia might have scored big like Tom Cruise’s grotesque in Tropic Thunder a decade ago, but now that kinda stuff doesn’t seem so funny anymore, even when the character gets his inevitable comeuppance. Maybe the times are a’changing.
The movie marks the directorial and screenwriting debut of Graham, who also stars as Honey, the guilt-ridden aspiring filmmaker who finally gets in touch with herself (both figuratively and literally) by the movie’s end. (Like Dorothy Gale, Honey orgasmically discovers she never needed to look beyond her own backyard, so to speak.) Given Graham’s strict religious upbringing and objectified Hollywood career, Half Magic is clearly autobiographical in nature. No doubt, she’s still got a story of two more to tell. Interestingly enough, Graham has chosen here to confront those experiences with the same sunny disposition of the naughty girl-next-door she’s personified in films like Boogie Nights and the Hangover franchise. On its face, this positivity may seem like an odd tonal choice, but again, maybe that’s why she’s a survivor.
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