Released on May 1 on Netflix and directed by Alice Wu, The Half of It is a coming-of-age rom-com. Starring Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer and Alexxis Lemire in the lead roles, The Half of It is a heartwarming and endearing movie about the problems of teenage life.
A teenage drama?
Of all the movie genres that are there in the world, I am especially attracted to rom-com. When I started watching The Half of It, it did feel like a story about an introverted teen who eventually falls in love and everything changes. The story seemed pretty familiar, a nerd teenager and a jock chasing a pretty girl. The girl will eventually fall for the nerd and they’ll live happily ever after.
You know, when a song plays in the background and the nerd gets a makeover where she chops her hair, gets rid of those glasses and tries to walk in heels? The typical kind? The Half of It features “the makeover” too but it is not the cliched kind. It’s about opening up, feeling and growing. It’s pure and praiseworthy.
The Half of It opens with a quote from Plato’s, The Symposium: “Love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole.” We are then introduced to Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), the nerd teenager who writes everyone’s assignment for a few dollars and is teased for her name. Throughout, Ellie is seen in the constant turmoil of either going to a good college outside Squahamish or staying in this small town which undermines her capabilities, with her father.
A few minutes into the movie and you know it’s more than the usual, ‘to all the rom-com’s I’ve seen before.’
The film is not devoid of love. It has love in many ways. Paul (Daniel Diemer) approaches Ellie to write just one love letter to the beautiful girl he likes, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). She, however, refuses to do that as she thinks it’s unfair. But eventually agrees as she has a bill to pay and the money can help.
There is an exchange of letters and texts between Aster and Ellie (writing on behalf of Paul, without Aster’s knowledge). While Paul likes her for how beautiful she is, Ellie sees more in her than the outer beauty. Like “how she twirls her hair when she’s writing, how her life bursts out like she can’t help herself and she stops being so perfect, how you can live in the ocean of her thoughts and feel like she knows”. This also indicates Ellie’s hidden liking for Aster.
Through this, Ellie expresses herself for the first time. The real Ellie. And Aster, the popular kid whom everyone loves, also isn’t what she has to be in front of people. She feels like a misfit, she feels sad and wants to escape. She is like every teenager out there. The dynamics may seem like a love triangle but it’s not the same.
The friendship between Paul and Ellie is beautifully drawn as well, he helps her grow out of her shell. Initially, Paul does seem like a dull guy who isn’t good at sports, can’t write his own letter but he has a heart of gold. He’s a loyal friend.
All the feels
There is a scene in The Half of It where Aster and Ellie go to an isolated lake in which they both float in water and talk about life, god and existence, listening to music – it’s sheer beauty. Their reflections are seen on the water which may represent another place, another reality where life isn’t the same. It’s not this confusing and messy. An ideal teen world. The scene is beautiful and represents the dichotomy that teenagers feel in this confusing and unfair world.
Paul, on the other hand, realizes that he is attracted to Ellie and tries to kiss her, which she denies. Aster sees this and leaves both Ellie and Paul. We also realize Ellie’s sexuality here. Yes, she is gay and she is attracted to Aster. Paul says it is a ‘sin’ which represent the Catholic belief system he belongs to. This pushes the two friends to stop talking. There is a binary in both Aster’s and Ellie’s beliefs and sexuality. While Ellie is an atheist, Aster is the daughter of a preacher. But they are connected by the roots of thoughts and feelings.
In this process of feelings and hurting, Aster feels betrayed and disconnects from both of them. In a church session, Trig Carson (Wolfgang Novogratz), whom Aster is supposed to marry eventually, is on the verge of proposing her. However, Paul and Ellie come to Aster’s rescue.
Love isn’t patient and kind and humble. Love is… messy and horrible and selfish and bold. It’s not finding a perfect half. It’s the trying, the reaching and failing. Love is being willing to ruin your good painting for the chance of a great one. The boldest stroke. – Ellie Chu
This heartfelt monologue of Ellie is one of the most beautiful scenes in The Half of It. It’s honest, it isn’t sugar-coated and does not idealize love and that’s what makes this perfect.
A beautiful end…
Before the whole church scenario, Paul visits Ellie’s home to deliver some things. Her father tells him how sad Ellie has been all the while he was not there for her as a friend. This scene is beautiful as it leads to a realization for both Paul and Edwin Chu (Collin Chou), Ellie’s father. Paul realizes that he has to accept Ellie for who she is and what he is doing is wrong. Meanwhile, Edwin realizes that he has to accept his life and the change it brought if he really wants his daughter to grow and go to college.
On the other hand, Ellie talks to Aster for one last time before leaving. Ellie kisses Aster and it’s beautiful like a final goodbye and a hope to meet again.
When finally Ellie leaves for college, Paul comes to the station. The scene is heartfelt as Paul is seen having tears and finally he chases Ellie’s train just like he chased her cycle the first time they met. This leaves Ellie sobbing and, honestly, me too.
The Half of It is a beautiful film and is a must-watch if you’re looking for some good rom-com to watch. With the themes of love and hope in the centre, this film is a different story from the recent ones of the same genre. It does not only show teenage infatuation and love but also the loneliness and confusion that comes with it.
The Half of It is streaming on Netflix.