An awkward teen boy pays an awkward teen girl to help him write to the girl of his dreams. It’s a familiar story, and while it could be full of high school tropes, Alice Wu gives us a tender and heartfelt story of finding your other half.
Alice Wu wrote and directed this film 16 years after her last. Whatever she was doing in that time paid off, as despite The Half of It being only her second feature, the direction is impeccable. Wu manages to capture the isolation of adolescence, the fear of rejection, and the complicated bonds between parents and children. The scenes between Ellie and Aster in the natural spa are stunning and artistic, but it’s the simplicity of the scenes between Ellie and her Dad sitting every night watching classic movies that show Wu knows exactly what she’s doing.
Versions of the plot have been told for the past 30 years: cases of mistaken identity, pretending to be someone you’re not, and unrequited love. What makes The Half of It different is that the love triangle between Ellie, Aster, and Paul is not the focal point of the story. This is very much Ellie’s story of finding the other half of her soul – finding friendship, finding her voice, finding who she is and what she wants. I had slight issues with the big scene in the third act, as it was one of the few scenes that felt unrealistic, but it also felt necessary to get to the ending we needed.
One of the most important plot points is the story between Ellie and her father. After the death of her mother, she has been the carer, looking out for him, protecting him, and being the head of the household due to his limited English. Seeing how their relationship develops with the introduction of Paul and how both of their views of Ellie evolves might actually be the heart of the film.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
These aren’t your typical high school movie characters. They have weird quirks, ideas, and flaws. Ellie and Paul feel so real I can imagine them in any classroom I’ve taught in. So much of this is down to Wu’s wonderful writing, but the performances from Leah Lewis and Daniel Diemer cannot be ignored.
I did feel that at times Aster seemed a little too good to be true – she’s artsy, but cool, but beautiful, but she’s not like the other girls and she’s the pastor’s daughter but sneaks off to skinny dip and she’s going to have a teenage wedding? I realized we only get to know Aster through the eyes of Ellie and Paul, so she is everything they want her to be, in their own different ways.
In the role of Ellie’s father, Collin Chou melted and broke my heart all at the same time. His love for his daughter and his need for her to stay his precious 13 year old forever feels so human. As someone who loved to sit in silence with her father, their relationship, though unbalanced and unfair at times, connected with me.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I’m not sure if the music on Netflix films is chosen by the creative time, or in conversation with Netflix, but similarly to All the Bright Places released earlier this year, the music is just stunning. Whoever is making these choices, they’re doing a great job. Ellie’s song at the school concert is the standout piece, not least because it cements Paul as one of the sweetest cheerleaders any human could ever have.
Set in the fictional Squahamish, the town feels old and stuck in the past. It’s understandable why these characters feel so trapped, different and awkward. If phones were removed from the film, it could be a timeless piece – which serves the plot. These are 4 people who have somehow gotten stuck – in the past, in a lie, behind a fear and Squahamish is the perfect limbo for them to live in. Unless they dare to break out.
Shout out to the production designer who also made living in a train station look ridiculously cool.
"...A heartfelt, tender story of finding your other half."
The Half of It (2020) MOVIE REVIEW
Whilst it blips towards the end, the final conclusion is so satisfying that it doesn’t matter. The Half of It is a wonderful, caring update on a familiar story, where your missing piece is out there, but it just might not be in the forms you were expecting.