Shy, straight-A student Ellie (Leah Lewis – Nancy Drew) is hired by sweet but inarticulate jock Paul (Daniel Diemer – Sacred Lies), who needs help winning over a popular girl. But their new and unlikely friendship gets complicated when Ellie discovers she has feelings for the same girl. You’d probably think, “oh, so this is another Netflix high school romcom, but they have a little gay love triangle”.. Guess again!
The Half of It opens with an animated sequence, while Ellie tells us about longing for the other half of our soul-unity. This is all based on the beliefs of ancient Greece, but those guys obviously never went to high school. Ellie was born in China, but moved to remote, backwater town Squahamish (or as Ellie’s English teacher likes to call it – “Hell-quamish”), where she’s busy making some much-needed extra cash penning homework papers for her fellow high school students. Goofy jock Paul is so desperate to woo the undeniably beautiful Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire – The Art of Murder). The only problem is, he has no idea how to do so and Ellie reluctantly agrees to help him write love letters. Oh btw, this isn’t a love story.
Through the use of social media notifications popping unannounced on screen, we get to understand the importance of literature in any way or form. This also becomes clear in the way director/writer Alice Wu incorporates legendary writer’s quotes as title cards throughout the film. Oscar Wilde and Santre’s life lessons are necessary elements in Ellie’s coming of age story, which she also uses to connect with Aster. Not only through the means of repressed British literature and abstract art does she find a comfortable voice, but it also makes for some compellingly awkward situations in which she’s basically an ear piece telling Paul when to make a move.
Wu really crafts a beautiful piece of visualised poetry with her newest film. Making a romantic film set at a high school, can easily become something sappy or overly cliché, but the director of Saving Face knows how to balance it all and keep it as raw as possible. Without ever pointing a finger at anyone’s background or beliefs, she dares to open up the conversation on religion and existentialism.
Casting talent can make or break your film, and that’s just why The Half of It works so well. Lewis carries this film with natural ease. Her voice is so important, since she basically narrates the entire story, but it’s the emotion that comes with it that truly lifts up her own physical performance which has been presented very basic in contrast to the classic beauty of Lemire’s character, Aster. Lemire doesn’t really get a lot to do until about a quarter into the film, but then gets her own moments to shine and delve deeper in what at first seems like a picture perfect world. Male lead Paul, played by Daniel Diemer, looks the part, but because he’s not your typical jock – dumb, self-centred, bully – he gets to grow as a character and show a vulnerable side you don’t easily get to witness in this sort of protagonist. A talented and promising young cast is an understatement.
The Half of It deserves to be up there with indie coming of age films, such as ‘The Edge of Seventeen‘ and ‘Lady Bird‘. Not only is Asian representation a necessity, the unforced LGBTQ+ story in the middle of it all is invigorating and from the heart. Like the movie states at the start, this was never supposed to be a love story – it’s about friendships and new beginnings. What is love anyway?
Netflix Review – ‘The Half of It’
Reviewed online, May 1, 2020. Classification: 7+. Running time: 105 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a Likely Story production. Producers: Anthony Bregman, M. Blair Breard, Alice Wu.
CREW: Director/screenplay: Alice Wu. Camera: Greta Zozula. Editors: Ian Blume, Lee Percy. Music: Anton Sanko.
WITH: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Enrique Murciano, Wolfgang Novogratz, Catherine Curtin, Becky Ann Baker, Collin Cho.