As an actress, Heather Graham’s career has been marked by just a couple of moves.
She can go wide-eyed, delivering perky banter at an acceptably blinding speed, rolling those wide eyes here and there for effect. She can go vertical, with her rising skirts and descending necklines, and she can go horizontal. From the very start of her career (“Bowfinger”) and ever after, if Heather’s in it, all too often, her perkiness has been played up as foreplay.
Sex scenes, nude scenes, and every night is “Boogie Nights” for Ms. Graham.
Which may explain how she got “Half Magic,” a movie she scripted, directed and stars in, made. It’s got Heather rolling her wider-than-wide eyes, Heather sex scenes, Heather more or less nude, Heather masturbating. I mean, this movie sells itself, right?
She’s embracing the pigeon-hole she’s (mostly) been shoved into and making fun of it.
It’s a hit-and-miss Hollywood comedy that sends up Hollywood and American culture’s treatment of women, packaged into the “magical thinking” that America has embraced, thanks — some say — to Oprah.
Candy (Graham) is stuck in a development job with a grating action/horror star (Chris D’Elia, arrogantly half-amusing) with whom she has joyless intercourse, at his behest. It’s OK, because, you know, she’s a woman. Her ideas are worth less in script meetings. And she’s not supposed to enjoy sex. Flashbacks to the sermons of her childhood preacher (Johnny Knoxville, a hoot) and her conservative dad taught her that.
“You could go to hell for those urges!”
She’d really like to get her “The Year of My Yoni” (google it) produced. But boss/lover/jerk Peter is just looking for his next “Ultra Violent” or “Captain Kill’s Bloodbath.” You know, movies where “sluts” get stabbed or shot.
Candy may be “sick of watching women get stabbed in movies…I like sluts. Why do they all have to die?” But she’s outvoted.
Then she goes to a “Pleasure Revolution” female empowerment meeting, where a sea of “pussy hats” listen to gurus (Molly Shannon is one) chanting “I love my breasts, SAY it with me!” and “Your bodacious tatas honor me and they honor you!”
She and her new friends, fashion designer Eva (Angela Kinsey, good) and New Agey/candle-selling “Hope-ologist” Honey (Stephanie Beatriz, funny) embark on romantic personal journeys that make each of them learn to stand up for themselves, brush off a failed marriage to a whiner (Thomas Lennon) who blames Eva and her clinginess for his infidelity or a faithless lover who blames Honey for his refusal to commit.
Graham has her characters sort through romantic comedy cliches — a rebound “artist” named “Freedom” (Luke Arnold, hilarious) and half-mocks the “Practical Magic” of lighting and candle and making a wish for a worthy love to the universe.
“Half Magic” works best at its broadest, ridiculing LA flakes being LA Flaky – diving into whatever trend makes the narcissistic feel better about themselves at this moment.
The “sexual awakening” of these women is fairly conventional, and Graham treating us to scenes where she learns how to “Make love to yourself” — long, and unfunny scenes — adds nothing to the picture. still, she sets us up for the tried and true “solution” to bad love with cliched indulgent lovers (Freedom, first and foremost) and then punctures those trial balloons with skill.
The picture lacks for nothing but big laughs. They don’t quite show up for the Men Make Movies Badly scenes, the wacky courtships (a hint of domination doesn’t pay off) or comical copulation.
Graham’s made a movie sending up the sorts of movies she’s been “forced” to make, and it’s no funnier or more interesting than the other recent half-hearted titles of her filmography.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and drug use
Cast: Heather Graham, Stephanie Beatriz, Angela Kinsey, Johnny Knoxville, Luke Arnold, Thomas Lennon, Rhea Perlman, Molly Shannon
Credits: Written and directed by Heather Graham. An eOne release.
Running time: 1:40