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Reviews

Between 2005-2016 I wrote more than 2,000 reviews for the Chicago Tribune's RedEye. Here's a good place to start.

Is Heather Graham a triple threat? (No)

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The perfect example of a two-star shrug, “Half Magic” attempts to put a refreshing, feminist and sex-positive spin on the romantic comedy. If any of the acting or writing or ideas were any good, it just might have worked.

OK, that’s an exaggeration—Heather Graham, starring in her debut as a writer-director, achieves a deliberate, concise bluntness here and there as Honey, an aspiring writer working with a chauvinist jackass (Chris D’Elia), utters things like, “A person can be smart and have big boobs.” As an actress, Graham ("Boogie Nights") hasn’t gotten many roles that don’t hinge on her appearance, and the idea that she would deliver a movie that offers a corrective to, say, her small part in the misogynistic “The Hangover,” is more than welcome.

Instead, she often settles for bland, cliché and amateur. After befriending Eva (Angela Kinsey of “The Office”) and Candy (Stephanie Beatriz of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)  in an anatomical appreciation class – “We must listen to our pussies,” advises the leader, played by Molly Shannon – the three women eventually make a pact to only be with good guys. (More specifically: “I want to have hot sex with someone who’s really nice to me.”) That means Candy making her expectations known with a dude who’s reluctant to commit and Eva attempting to resist her dopey ex-husband (Thomas Lennon). Because “Half Magic” would rather feel like beach reading than a realistic examination of modern challenges among women and men, Eva soon hooks up with a Thor-resembling old friend (Jason Lewis of “Sex and the City”) who epitomizes the type of fantasy that has no place in a movie that wants to make serious points about contemporary relationships.

Better is Honey’s time with Freedom (Luke Arnold), which accelerates quickly because of her great-sex-with-a-nice-guy priority and blind spot for whether or not this ridiculous, aloof drug addict makes a sensible partner. But Honey’s frustrations at work take a painfully credible scenario – arrogant guy in the entertainment industry disregards female input and sees her only as sexual object – and turns it into her weirdly delighting in writing a script that sounds like she thinks Cinemax is a major production company. And the movie’s efforts to oppose slut shaming and support female sexuality withers against reductive depictions of these women as childish dopes who engage in superficial conversation and frolic in the rain. And don’t get me started on them making wishes on supposedly magic candles as if they were 12.

Meanwhile, the performances are almost uniformly stiff, so highlights like Candy taking charge of her situation and not only refusing to do her guy’s laundry but ordering him to do hers after going down on her vanishes in a sea of mediocrity. Graham is onto something straightforward and empowering when Honey questions why they are sitting around complaining when they should be focusing on how great they are and going after what they want. There’s truth and toughness in that, and “Half Magic” has its heart in the right place. Its head needs work.

C

Matt PaisComment