HALF MAGIC Review: Girl Power In An Evolving Hollywood

Things are getting witchy.

"Girl power" is such a hard thing to quantify in a film, and the feminist virtue of a narrative crafted for, and sometimes by, women can be diluted by the demands of producers and executives who see no value in the female demographic. Films are often compromised or not made at all if they don't fit a mold of what a man in a position of power thinks about the feminine perspective, and the result is a relative dearth of films by women, for women. (And yes, I know there are tons of examples of films that have broken through, but we're talking at the macro scale here in an industry historically dominated by men.) This is probably why Half Magic feels like such a breath of fresh air. It's a bit clunky and more than a little self-congratulatory for its own existence, but the notion of a comedy aimed at women taking such a vicious swipe at male self-absorption feels novel precisely because it is an attitude more often adopted in impolite conversation rather than our cinematic exploits.

The story follows Honey (Heather Graham), assistant and girlfriend to an action star and producer (Chris D'Elia) who treats her and all women like garbage. Struggling with self-esteem issues and desperately wanting to break through into making films of her own, Honey seeks help from a feminist power seminar where she meets two friends with similar man problems: one woman (Angela Kinsey) has trouble getting over the husband who left her for a younger woman, while the other's (Stephanie Beatriz) boyfriend abuses his lack of commitment to her because of her unwillingness to speak up for herself and ask for monogamy. The trio bond over a ritual of wishing upon candles for witchy benefits to their sex and love lives, and in the process they discover more about themselves and the role their men play in their lives.

The film initially frames the consequences of wishing upon these witchy candles as the result of some form of literal magic, but it becomes obvious fairly quickly that the so-called magic is actually just a boost in each woman's self-confidence. It's a bit of a hackneyed convention to be sure, but rather than being a simplistic expression of wish-fulfillment, Half Magic is dedicated to having its characters stumble their way to self-empowerment rather than instantly achieve it with a shift in attitude. Honey in particular immediately rebounds from her emotionally abusive boyfriend/boss to a man who is superficially attractive but doesn't have his life in order as much as Honey first believed. All three women struggle to discover what works for them as independent beings, and it's that struggle that invests meaning in what might otherwise have been an overly light and bubbly wade through the shallow end of the theme pool.

Half Magic was written and directed by Heather Graham herself, which raises red flags for over-ambition from one whose only previous experience was acting, but she actually acquits herself quite nicely. Her years doing comedy clearly taught her a lot about comedic timing and character dynamics, even if her writing doesn't quite carry jokes the way her actors' performances do. It's also an unabashedly autobiographical story, with Honey's achievement in film production mirroring her own achievement in making this movie. Yeah, it's corny and blunt, but the genuine sincerity of its on-the-nose moments is forgiven in light of how much making this movie clearly means to Graham. Rarely are text and metatext so tightly interwoven because that path leads to overindulgence, but Honey is so blatantly Heather Graham playing a version of Heather Graham that the film's positive energy can only be enhanced by the realization that Half Magic is the product of the very passion it's showing you. Good show, Ms. Graham. I can't wait to see what you do next.