‘Half Magic’ Is Half Baked

by Warren Cantrell on February 22, 2018

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Down]

A bad movie with a lot of heart and a good message, Half Magic is a harmless fable about modern, professional women trying to thrive in a man’s world. The film follows the budding friendship of three adult ladies in Los Angeles: each of them beset by an avalanche of sexism and misogyny that is so puffed up and exaggerated that it strains even the most generous suspension of disbelief. And while Half Magic does explore some very prescient topics (toxic relationships, workplace harassment, etc.). it does so with such a flat, colorless gradation that it seems more sitcom-y than real life, thereby undercutting its message.

Early in the movie, the audience is introduced to Honey (Heather Graham), a writer for a movie production company helmed by an astonishingly sexist and abusive movie star, Peter Brock (Chris D’Elia). Despite the fact that he is dismissive of her ideas, cruel to her in front of the other staff, and just an awful person in general, Peter is Honey’s boyfriend. Inspired, perhaps, by this awful personal and professional relationship, Honey goes to a female empowerment seminar, where she learns that her pussy is a genius, and her ta-ta’s deserve respect. It’s here that Honey meets fellow female put-upons Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) and Eva (Angela Kinsey), who are also suffering in toxic relationships.

The trio decide to become best friends after about five minutes of conversation, then impulsively head off to the magic candle shop where Candy works. There, the three of them decide to wish upon the candles for immediate romantic gratification, which leads them down a path where they must confront their old demons, as well as grapple with new ones. For her part, Eva is obsessed with her ex-husband, who left her for a young twenty-something after she finished putting him through art school. Candy, on the other hand, is struggling with her years-long relationship with a selfish man-child that just wants a Netflix and Chill laundry maid. And then there’s Honey, who can’t seem to shake the hold Peter has over her despite his mind-boggling workplace abuse.

From here, the movie plays like an extended Sex and the City episode, with the three leads drifting out into the urban surf to ride the turbulent waves of romance, only to roll back to the shore, meet over lunch to debrief, then paddle out all over again. The narrative format is palatable enough, yet it is all buttressed by men that are all so cartoonish in their behavior that it takes the wind out of the story’s sails. These guys are just amalgams of the worst impulses and character traits of their gender, and don’t showcase any nuance or subtlety. Whether it is the commitment-fearing millennial, the mid-life crisis artist, or the violently misogynistic and abusive boss, these dude-bros all come across as exaggerated caricatures with no real basis in reality.

As a result, it’s hard to conjure up any sympathy for (or connect with) the three grown-ass women hung up on these douche bags. Honey, Candy, and Eva are all so hopelessly lost in toxic relationships that any reasonable person looking on would think them pants-crapping insane for enduring this garbage. It might be one thing if these were college freshmen, or even just somewhat naïve twenty-somethings, yet at 48, 46, and 37, the characters that Graham, Kinsey, and Beatriz play should be past all of this. This makes for a movie that is, at its core, really just an examination of immature women acting half their age in a world with its misogyny dial set to 1952.

And that’s too bad. There’s a scene early in the picture when a physically and emotionally exhausted Honey wrenches her body into an awkward position to sit sideways in her living room’s lounge chair: her eyes staring out into the expanse of a life unfolding not at all as planned. This moment of silence plays better than any of the quick-cut dialogue exchanges that make up the spine of Half Magic, for it speaks to a helpless isolation that gets to the core of what is keeping these women down. The world is sexist and unfair, without question, yet the epiphany of Honey, Candy, and Eva is that they ultimately control their destiny, and have the ability to succeed professionally and personally if they stand up for themselves.

Like Honey sitting awkwardly as might a child in the chair, these women would be more comfortable if they respected themselves and sat/lived like confident adults. These are talented, interesting women with a lot to offer, and despite the onslaught of misogyny and sexism, they are still able to get up every day to try and make their mark in the world. Their limitations are self-imposed, and once they learn that they don’t need the approval or guidance of men to succeed, they flourish. There’s an inspiring message in all of this: a nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself kind of lesson that might connect if this film was set in a universe resembling a real one (and with characters acting their real age).

And that’s the problem: the script (penned by Graham) and the movie as a whole (directed by Graham) don’t pass the sniff test, and present characters and situations not at all true to real life. The #MeToo movement has peeled back the ugly surface layer of a world where women face multiple forms of harassment, discrimination, and abuse, and while some of it may be as blatant and outlandish as what’s presented in Half Magic, the majority is steeped in institutionalized discrimination, silent aggression, and veiled reciprocity. Women don’t need to be propositioned by their boss in front of their coworkers to demonstrate that workplace harassment exists, and men don’t need to come off as selfish monsters to show that women grapple with sexist double standards every day.

No, in the real world, it’s sometimes difficult to tell friend from foe, and the reasons men and women stay with each other despite one’s better judgment is more complicated than discovering self-esteem for the first time in your mid-40s. Opening this week in theaters, VOD, and digital HD, Half Magic has a lot to say about relationships, sexual confidence, and self-esteem, even if it gets in the way of itself trying to convey it.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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