HALF MAGIC — Review by Cate Marquis

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Three women with “man troubles” and low self esteem decide to form a team to both make their sex lives better and get what they really want in their love relationships, with a little help from some “magic candles,” in Heather Graham’s female-centric romantic comedy Half Magic. Continue reading…

Graham wrote and stars in her directorial debut Half Magic.. The comedy also stars Angela Kinsey and Stephanie Beatriz. Graham plays Honey, who is both an assistant and girlfriend of action-movie star Peter Brock (Chris D’Elia). What Honey really wants to be is a scriptwriter but she can hardly get her self-absorbed, sexist boyfriend/employer to look at her scripts. Kinsey plays Eva, a successful dress designer and shop owner who is still pining for her ex-husband Darren (Thomas Lennon), an artist who dumped her for a 21-year-old after Eva spent 14 years supporting him through art school and more. Beatriz plays Candy, a young unicorn-loving self-styled “witch” who sells “magic candles” in a little shop. Candy’s candles are supposed to help you achieve goals like “hot sex” or love. Despite her belief in the candles’ magic, her love life is just as much a mess. She’s in a years-long relationship with commitment-phobic Daniel Peters. Daniel won’t even admit Candy’s his girlfriend yet still expects her to do his laundry.

Many women will grit their teeth over that last one. Half Magic. is part rom com, part sex comedy, with a surprising little side of female empowerment. Obviously, these women have big love problems – comically big – but it is not just with the men in their lives, as they struggle with finding sexual satisfaction and even with valuing themselves.

Disappointing love-lives is standard rom com stuff, but Graham gives us something extra by mixing in a little feminist empowerment and, in the case of Honey, a little career empowerment. Honey’s story sounds remarkably timely but Graham goes less into workplace power struggles and instead goes after Hollywood’s long standing male-centric ideas of what kind of movie stories sell. Honey’s movie star boyfriend Peter continually spouts the familiar sexist arguments about what kinds of movies can be made and which will make money.

The plot focuses mainly on Graham’s Honey character, who also is struggling with a religious upbringing that has burdened her with guilt about sex as she struggles with what she wants in man, what she wants in bed, and what she wants in her career. While Honey figures out what she really wants, Eva and Candy go on their own journeys that take them beyond the usual rom com “true love” trope towards self-knowledge and more.

In supporting roles, Rhea Perlman makes a scene-stealing appearance as a producer, while Molly Shannon makes a guffaw-inducing appearance as a loopy feminist empowerment guru.

On the surface, the film has a lot of the usual rom com low-brow humor and character cuteness, but beneath that plot surface something snarkier is going on. Start with the character names – two women named Honey and Candy, and men named Peter Brock and Daniel Peters. It’s amazing the third guy isn’t named Dick. Graham keeps the focus woman-centric, even with the romantic fantasy surface, and the men are more types – although less the expected types.

Half Magic. is a little indie rom com that does not challenge to the genre limits yet works a little subversive magic around the edges.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Half Magic is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for February 23, 2018

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.