Heather Graham and Stephanie Beatriz Make a Pact in Sugary Sex Comedy ‘Half Magic’
Over two decades after she made her mark as fed-up porn actress Rollergirl in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” actress Heather Graham makes her directorial debut with “Half Magic,” a fun and frothy female-driven sex comedy for the #MeToo era. Graham stars as Honey Harrison, a Hollywood development assistant with dreams of becoming a writer. Unfortunately for her, her boss, director Peter Brock (Chris D’Elia), who also happens to be her boyfriend, is far from supportive. Graham has stated that she wrote the screenplay as a response to all the sexism she has encountered in the industry, and the smarmy Peter, whose idea of a winning film is one in which “sluts” get stabbed in the butt, must be the embodiment of every creep she ever encountered. Peter is supposed to be a brilliant filmmaker, but he comes across as rather dense, with his on-the-nose dialogue and total lack of emotional intelligence. It’s no wonder that Honey’s frustrations lead her to “Pleasure Revolution,” a new age sex-positive female empowerment seminar in which a guru (Molly Shannon) has the women compliment each others’ “bodacious tatas.” As hokey as this sounds, it’s just want Honey needs in her life at this moment, and she sets off on a zany journey of self-discovery.
Along for the ride with Honey are two women she meets at Pleasure Revolution, Eva (Angela Kinsey), a successful fashion designer grieving the recent demise of her 14-year marriage to a spoiled man child (Thomas Lennon), and Candy (Stephanie Beatriz), a cheery “hopeologist” currently engaged in a toxic relationship with selfish commitment-phobe Daniel (Alex Beh). Like a trio of Girl Scouts who hit it off at camp, these three women become inseparable, but instead of focusing their energy on earning badges, they band together to hold each other accountable as they swear off sex with bad guys. Predictably, this pact proves difficult to maintain, as Graham examines how society’s perception of single women, low self-esteem and general loneliness lead ladies to repeatedly make poor dating choices.
For Beatriz, “Half Magic” presented her with a rare opportunity. “I really loved the idea of working with Heather,” the actress revealed to Entertainment Voice. “When I saw that she was writing and directing and starring in it, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s so different than most of the stuff you’re going out for, Stephanie.’ The majority of the time, unfortunately, most of the scripts I came across are so heavily stories told from the male gaze, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I really feel like there needs to be more varied voices telling different stories… It’s this really smart, beautiful, soulful thing wrapped up in this lovely, kind of sparkly package… It’s like biting into cake, but the cake was made with almond butter and it’s really good for you.”
Candy, the character who brings the magic to the group with the candles she sells at a local metaphysical store, is just as sweet as her name implies, making her miles away from the character Beatriz currently plays on the hit sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” the tough and mysterious Detective Rosa Diaz.
“Kinda different, yeah,” Beatriz said of the two characters with a laugh. She went on to explain how she prepares for her roles by looking at the script and finding common ground with her character. When it comes to Candy, even if a female viewer doesn’t personally relate to her, they will surely see in her some they personally know.
In a lot of ways, “Half Magic” plays it safe, as it is chock-full of tropes found in most standard, guilty pleasure romantic comedies. Where Graham does take risks is in the sex scenes, most memorably a few solo ones featuring herself. She also examines body issues. When Eva finds herself getting hot and heavy with a new lover (Jason Lewis), she allows him to perform oral sex on her, but refuses to let him disrobe her completely, bringing to light the shame she feels about her own body, something many female viewers will find relatable.
Candy, meanwhile, has little issues with her body, and some of the most satisfying, cheer-worthy scenes in “Half Magic” involve her turning the tables on Daniel, even going as far as to transform herself into a dominatrix, taking what she learned about the “power of the pussy” to heart to get what she wants in the bedroom.
“I have a very vivid imagination, so most of the time the work that I’m doing is coming from just an imagination place. I’m less likely to pull from my own life,” explained Beatriz when asked about her personal inspirations. “At the time [of filming], I was in a long-term relationship, so I hadn’t had a break-up in a really long time, so it was really just about me and Alex finding it together with Heather’s guidance. I think one of her strengths as a director is knowing that the actors need time.”
Beatriz went on to discuss what makes a director great from an actor’s point of view. “It’s way more fun as an actor to have a director who will let you play with the other actors before they get in there. [‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ co-star] Andre Braugher has this really great phrase for it, it’s kind of gross – ‘I’m not a meat puppet. I’m an artist and I’d like to be treated as such.’ Heather definitely does not treat her actors like that at all… Most of us are just a bunch of little bumbling, vulnerable egos like everybody else. We don’t want to be criticized. We don’t want to feel like what we’re bringing to the table isn’t worthwhile. If a director can come from a place of looking at us like we’re vulnerable, then they’re usually going to get better work out of us. That’s when the best work happens, when you feel vulnerable and they catch that on film… That’s why people go to the movies, because most of the time they can’t show or feel that in real life.”
Although Candy and Rosa are as different as night in day in most ways, one thing they have in common is a desire to shed restrictions when it comes to expressing their individual sexualities. The fall finale of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” saw Rosa revealing her bisexuality to her conservative parents. This was a storyline that was very personal to Beatriz, as she herself publicly came out as bisexual in 2016.
“I really loved that entire experience,” said the actress. “I’m so lucky that [executive producer] Dan Goor, [writers] Justin Noble and Carly Hallam trusted me with that storyline. I thought that it was beautifully written. To be honest, like I was saying, my favorite kind of stuff is the more vulnerable [material], because one of the things I love to do as an actor is dig at those more uncomfortable, lonely, scary parts of the human psyche. ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ doesn’t have us doing that very often, but when I do get to do it it’s, honestly, very satisfying for me, because I know that journey. I know it personally and intimately, so to be able to be a part of that and to that that broadcast on network television is so special and something I’ll never, ever forget. I’ll always be grateful for it.”
What can fans look forward to on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which is to resume season five this spring?
“I’m hoping that we see more of Rosa’s love life,” revealed Beatriz. “I think you’re going to at the end of this season. I’m really excited for us to come back and for the audience to see Rosa’s awkward, sexy, fun dating life.”
“Half Magic” opens Feb. 23 in theaters, on VOD and Digital HD.