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On Half Magic and why films “by women, for women” aren’t enough

A few Saturday mornings ago I settled into my bed – clad in sweats and that lazy weekend full-body glow – with a donut in hand and a hot cup of tea on my bedside table. My notebook was propped up in front of me and a liquidy-ink black pen was in my hand as I turned on the pre-release screener of a film I was really excited to watch.

It had been pitched to me as a film “by women, for women,” and I’d been asked to review it. It sounded right up my alley, and like it would be a welcome addition to our current political environment.

I had trouble even making it through the first half hour.

The movie is called Half Magic, and it focuses on a newly-forged friendship between three women dedicated to waging war against sexism, low self-esteem, and bad relationships. It was very meta; the (semblance of a) plot followed Heather Graham (who also directed the film) as she portrayed Honey’s struggle to get a by-women, for-women film produced by a domineering, misogynistic male studio executive.

I understand it was meant to be satire to some degree, but it wasn’t smart or witty or unique enough to read as one. It was painfully obvious that it was Graham’s first directing venture – it was clunky and awkward, uncomfortable in the not-edgy way, and the actors, while well-known and talented, were given underdeveloped personas to embody (with names like “Honey” and “Candy,” Graham was clearly trying to promote the notion that girls with sexist names are still powerful and multidimensional, but it didn’t work: the odd story resolutions, boring, two-dimensional characters, and copious Bechdel test fails were entirely damning).

Guys, I love rom-coms. I really do. When people ask me what my favourite movie is, I always want to say Love Actually, because it kind of is, and I watch it several times a year, but I usually hide that fact, because people don’t consider it to be ~highbrow~ enough for a fave film.

This means, though, that I’ve watched lots of romantic comedies. And at this point, I understand that the genre should at very least bring a person some form of comfort, even if only by coating his or her heart with some shallow sugary-cuteness. And I understand that a romantic comedy pandering to women’s empowerment should certainly make a woman feel, well, empowered.

But Half-Magic is unrefined, derivative, plotless chaos, no more effective at instilling inspiration, thought, or laughter than the films from which it claims to be so provocatively divergent.

 

It’s crucial that we tell stories of the marginalized. Film is one of the most universal and affecting mediums in the world; it allows us to understand and to empathize with people unlike ourselves. Women, POC, the queer community, the disabled, anyone who’s ever been marginalized deserve the same megaphones that have been bestowed upon white men for centuries.

But it is not enough to slap a woman-centric agenda on a mediocre film and call it feminist. Especially if, as is the case with Half Magic, the overwhelmingly vast majority of the team responsible for the movie’s production is male.

The movie could have (should have) been something; its heart was in the right place, but the filmmakers arrogantly relied on the “by women, for women” calling card at the expense of the plot, direction, editing, etc.

It was, ultimately, and unfortunately, a narrow-minded concept that was poorly executed on all fronts. As a result the only sentiment I really felt was embarrassment – that given an opportunity so many wish and work for, this was the art that had been magnified in the name of women.

I want us (the stereotyped, the put-down, the ignored) to have all the opportunities men do – but we don’t, not yet. They still control the narrative. And right now, like it or not, we all still need to be willing to work together to shatter the glass ceiling.

We can’t just make a film about women and call it “progressive” or “refreshing” or “necessary in the current social climate.” We have so much to say. We owe it to ourselves to do more than just grab that evasive megaphone without knowing first how to use it. Having it is not enough; yelling senselessly is not enough. We owe it to ourselves to use whatever platform we have to send a message, to enable new ways of thinking, to enact change. Our voices are not valuable solely because they exist. They’re valuable for all their intricacies and quirks and flaws and pain and passion and joy and dissonance.

Make movies about women; their trials, their successes, their everyday every days. Humanize us. Empower us. Write our stories. Write ‘em all. But we can do better than this.