Heather Graham’s directorial debut, Half Magic, displays a sprightly tone and blissful sense of liberation in charting the exploits of Honey (Graham), Eva (Angela Kinsey), and Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) as they seek to live by their own feminine-centric rules and apart from a social world catered to male desire and pleasure. The film, which abounds in snappy dialogue laced with painful truths about the characters’ backgrounds, shrewdly suggests that a woman’s individual pursuit of happiness is complemented and powerfully sustained by binding friendships with like-minded cohorts.
Through its depiction of the humorous sexual misadventures that Honey, Eva, and Candy endure, Half Magic gets at how any new lifestyle change is accompanied by a period of insecurity and self-doubt. Graham contextualizes the women’s initial uncertainty as a lingering effect of feeling conditioned by males to behave a certain way, a point that’s effectively elaborated in a scene where Candy dons a dominatrix outfit in an attempt to win over Daniel (Alex Beh), a friend with benefits who she wants to be her steady boyfriend. But Candy begins to second-guess her acquiescence to Daniel after he nitpicks her playacting, and her wish of being with one specific man is then neatly contrasted with Honey’s pursuit of meaningful sex. This is a film that understands that not all female desire is the same.
Graham’s script is prone to interrupting the story’s casual flow with strokes of deus ex machina, as when each of the protagonists discovers a troubling quality about their relationship to a man. But in at least one of those cases, it’s in the interest of bitingly satirizing Hollywood’s systemic sexism. The industry is seen as normalizing violence against women and being ignorant of female pleasure in order to appease “teenage boys,” as Peter (Chris D’Elia), a hotshot actor who Honey works for and occasionally sleeps with, puts it. At one point, Peter launches into a misogynistic rant about how Honey can’t be a film director because of flaws he perceives in her appearance. In that sense, the film’s very existence is a sharp rebuttal to such thinking—an act of defiance that turns Peter into a punchline. And Graham refuses to sentimentalize these bad experiences with men, because if she were to do that, the film would’ve felt like another win for the patriarchal world.