The Half of It is basically Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, except not, like, problematic. Inspired by writer and director Alice Wu’s experiences with sexual and racial identity, it is a thoughtful look at growing up and falling in love.
Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a Chinese-American, straight-A student who has been making extra cash by doing other kids’ homework. By night, she’s performing her father’s duties as a station master and switchman at the town train station. One day the school jock, Paul (Daniel Diemer) asks her to help him write love letters to the popular girl, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). After a lot of hemming and hawing, Ellie meets Aster and gets why Paul is in love with her. Ellie eventually caves and begins a correspondence with Aster, only to fall in love with her too.
What’s refreshing is that we never get the sense that Ellie is ashamed or startled by her sexuality. If anything, she seems wary of betraying Aster and Paul’s trust. This could be because unlike her peers in the small God-fearing town of Sqahamish, Washington, Ellie is atheist. She is not grappling with her relationship to religion, like Aster, whose father is the deacon of their local church.
On the other hand, part of what Ellie can relate to is that Aster comes from the only other immigrant family in town. But while Ellie is called racial slurs on her daily bike rides to school, Aster is dealing with her own issues of being a “passing” POC. She comes from a respectable Latinx family. Her father works for the church, she’s hot and she’s dating the most popular guy in school. Although their experiences are different, Ellie and Aster are dealing with their own struggles with race in a town full of white people.
The relationship between Ellie and her father (Collin Chou) is lovely. He gives one of the most moving performances as a grieving single father struggling to become an engineer in a country that won’t recognize academic accolades without fluent English. Some of the best scenes are Ellie and her father speaking in Mandarin while watching old movies.
The movie’s tagline is “A different kind of love story,” which goes two ways. Not only is it a coming-of-age romance for a queer teenager, but also a platonic one between Ellie and Paul. Paul is a lovable dummy who wins over Ellie and her father with his goofy charm. He’s not Noah Centineo, but he comes off as sincere. I love that there were dual meet-cutes: One between Ellie and Paul, and another between her and Aster. It shines a spotlight on platonic friendships between men and women that don’t get enough play in movies.
My gripe with the film is the Big Reveal, which is ridonkulous and contrived. I would have appreciated it if they had trimmed the fat a little bit. There were a bunch of scenes that didn’t need to be there. The ending finally finds its footing, which almost makes up for its sh-tty climax.
The Half of It takes a trope that has been used to death in rom-coms- Impersonating someone else to make a girl fall in love with them- and gives it a modern twist. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but Netflix has helped revitalize the rom-com for a new generation through more diverse storytelling.
Image credit: Netflix