A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Half Magic is a very racy comedy about sexual empowerment starring Heather Graham, Stephanie Beatriz, and Angela Kinsey. While it's not intended for kids by any stretch of the imagination, its messages around friendship and women taking charge of their romantic/sexual lives and having agency and the self-confidence to demand what they want are actually valuable, especially for young women who are ready to start independent lives. But most parents would likely shy from the movie's explicit sexual situations and descriptions: Characters talk about sex constantly (including oral sex and masturbation) and have it frequently. Nudity is partial rather than full frontal, but the sex scenes don't leave all that much to the imagination. There's also frequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more), drinking, and drug use (including cocaine). The clearly over-the-top misogyny on display by many of the male characters could be instructive for younger men in the "what not to do" sense.
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What's the story?
In HALF MAGIC, aspiring filmmaker Honey (Heather Graham) is in a dead-end job and relationship with horrifically sexist movie star Peter (Chris D'Elia), who stands between her and career advancement. She befriends successful designer Eva (Angela Kinsey) and candle seller/magic believer Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) at a female empowerment class and discovers that they share frustrations with men and their own inhibitions and low self-esteem. Eva may be too hung up on her ex (Thomas Lennon) to fully explore what might be a great new romantic opportunity. Candy is stuck in a lopsided relationship with an immature cad. Through their friendship and support, the three women find it in themselves to demand what they really want and raise their expectations -- both for their relationships and themselves.
Is it any good?
Graham's debut as feature writer-director is bold and timely and has undeniable charm. That Half Magic's exploration of female empowerment via the notion of reclaiming sexual agency comes during the #MeToo conversation adds to its resonance. This sometimes absurd comedy takes on slut shaming, sexual coercion, and finding the strength to not settle for less than what you want. What's more, it does so in the sometimes gonzo comic format that, until Bridesmaids, seemed purely the province of men. Graham's script includes outright hilarious moments, as well as some painful ones viewers might suspect came from her own experiences ("I'm not saying I'm against women's rights," says one powerful man. "I'm just saying there's no market for their films"). She relies too much on clichés that make the story predictable: We know as soon as we meet them who will end up with whom, which relationship will be a red herring, etc. There's even a friends-dancing-with-joyous-abandon scene. But these knocks don't outweigh the film's strengths. While Graham isn't yet an experienced cinematic stylist, she makes up for that with a deft hand with her actors, giving them room to breathe. As the de facto villain, D'Elia shamelessly swipes every scene he's in. Peter's misogynistic, narcissistic idiocy is flat-out hilarious. He gets the most out of the material, as when he's going on to an interviewer about his "emotional gun" or when he boasts that the woman-hating video game he's developing will "sell like Molly to a girl who doesn't talk to her parents much."
But this film is all about the women, and they hold our attention ably. Kinsey shows so many more colors here than she had the opportunity to do as uptight Angela on TV's The Office. She utterly owns a sequence of drunk dials to Lennon, somehow making it even worse when he shows up. And Beatriz' versatility is impressive. She established herself as the stony Rosa on TV's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, then earned raves as a rape victim in The Light of the Moon. Here, she's wonderfully charming in the scenes powered by Candy's positive energy and convincingly wounded when she sees the truth of her uneven relationship. And despite bearing the weight of writing and directing, Graham turns in what might be her best work on-screen. The moment when Honey's new lover tells her what she wants to hear (using words like "divinity") is touchingly vulnerable. The film lurches at times from tone to tone (Candy's real-feeling agony and some of the movie's more over-the-top absurd moments have trouble existing in the same cinematic universe), and its predictability isn't great. But Half Magic is a good time, with lots of funny moments and talented actors. And it provides a stirring response to one character's insistence that "Sex and violence is a proven formula": "What about sex and happiness?"
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how women's sexuality is typically represented on-screen. How does Half Magic challenge that? Can you point to other films, songs, TV shows, books, etc., that seem to be challenging the status quo?
The three main characters all start out involved in awful relationships with men. They grow and change, but in important ways, their happiness is still tied to their relationships with men at the end of the movie. Does that make them weaker, stronger, or neither?
One of the movie's storylines involves "slut shaming" (e.g., female characters who enjoy sex in horror movies tend to be the ones who are terribly punished). Have you noticed that tendency? Do you think it affects your attitudes? Do you see things changing in media?
Did you find the plot predictable (who would end up with whom, what mistakes the characters would make, would their friendships survive)? Did it matter to you? Do you think the use of "tropes" in genre films such as this one are helpful, or do they give the game away?
- In theaters: February 23, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: April 3, 2018
- Cast: Heather Graham, Angela Kinsey, Stephanie Beatriz
- Director: Heather Graham
- Studio: Momentum Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content, nudity, language and drug use
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