At first glance, Half Magic looks another ‘girls – uh, middle-aged women – gone wild’ comedy in the vein of Bridesmaids and the litany of films that followed. Starring Heather Graham – best known for her kooky, comedic roles – and TV sitcom stars Stephanie Beatriz (of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Angela Kinsey (of the American Office), you’re conditioned to expect misadventures and splashes of gross-out comedy, as has become the norm in female-starring comedies over the last decade.
While Half Magic isn’t a world away from those films, it’s not another Bad Moms or Girls Trip. Written and directed by Graham, the film avoids familiar clichés for a more thoughtful examination of workplace inequality and women’s insecurities. When the three woman form an impromptu friendship at a “Love Your Pussy” self-help seminar (hosted by Molly Shannon), they set out to help each other tackle their life problems – most of which revolve around sex. Graham’s unhappily dating her obnoxious boss, a misogynistic movie star (Chris D’Elia); Beatriz’s layabout boyfriend wants an open relationship; and Kinsey, while contending with her ex-husband’s (Thomas Lennon’s) advances, struggles to see herself as sexy anymore.
Unlike the majority of post-Bridesmaids comedies written and directed by men, Half Magic has a distinctly female perspective. Its depiction of workplace sexual harassment and Hollywood sexism is exaggerated enough to be funny – though D’Elia’s in a whole different gear to everyone else in the movie – but is clearly drawn from a place of real hurt (Graham was one of the earliest to speak up in the wave of Weinstein accusations). The film is sexy, but without objectification; the single nude scene is less about the body than the character’s confidence in her own body. In an industry dominated by bro-comedies – even the one starring women – this feels gently revolutionary, refreshingly real.
There’s a lot to like about Half Magic. The three leads – playing variations on Graham’s wide-eyed naïf schtick – all do great work, levelling out the comedic elements with an aura of authenticity. Beatriz plays an entirely different role to her work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine – she’s an eternal optimist, bouncy and cheerful throughout – while Kinsey elevates her role by subtly emphasising a quivering sadness.
Ultimately, however, the film is just ‘okay’. The writing needed to be sharper – better jokes, or at least a more consistent tone – the pacing cleaner, the camerawork less mid-budget TV sitcom. But if I’m being honest, I’d much prefer a string of ‘okay’ comedies like this than the formulaic, improvisation-heavy schlock that’s come to dominate studio output in recent years. Half Magic could’ve been a lot better, but it has something that most of its competitors lack: a point of view.