‘The Half of It’ Breathes New Life Into the Teen Rom-Com Genre with Wit and Humour
A shy, introverted, Chinese-American, straight-A student finds herself helping the school jock woo the girl they both secretly love. In the process, each teaches the other about the nature of love as they find connection in the most unlikely of places
Director: Alice Wu
Cast: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire
Runtime: 104 minutes
The Half of It is not your typical teen rom-com. Sure, it’s got the usual romantic comedy tropes from bumbling, awkward high school students to vapid jocks who think the whole world revolves around them. But Director Alice Wu breathes new life into the rom-com by giving a voice to those who have been overlooked, and made to keep silent in the past.
Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) and her father are the only Chinese in a small town in Washington. Having moved from China and losing her mother at a young age, Ellie is forced to be more mature and responsible than her age, helping her father make ends meet. She uses her intelligence to make some money writing her classmates essays, but her side hustle becomes more of an adventure when Paul (Daniel Diemer) asks Ellie to write love letters to his crush, Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Paul and Ellie become good friends, but little does he know that Ellie is in fact falling for Aster too.
Romantic comedies aren’t always my thing, sometimes they just get too cheesy and unrealistic. But this film gets it right – there’s a good balance between lightheartedness and emotional depth that keeps you hooked. One of the best aspects of the film, in my opinion, is Ellie and Paul’s character development. Sometimes characters tend to be relegated as a plot device, or only serve to shadow the protagonist, but Paul stands out in his own right.
Paul is a simple, slow-witted football player who isn’t even that good of an athlete. His character can easily fall into the role of comedic relief, but Wu gives him the character development he deserves. Paul and Ellie couldn’t be any more different, so their partnership challenges each other and ultimately leads to both their growth as people.
The same can’t be said for Aster though, which is unfortunate seeing that she’s the main subject of Ellie and Paul’s love. I didn’t get much of that “will they, won’t they” excitement, because there isn’t much to Aster. I couldn’t root for Aster and Paul, or Aster and Ellie, because I wasn’t acquainted with her enough. Nevertheless, Aster’s character is charming enough to keep the plot moving.
Technical aspects are done well, but the film’s greatest strength lies in its witty writing. I’m not one to laugh out loud when watching movies, but The Half of It got quite a few giggles from me.
Wu’s humour is clever and perfectly timed, not taking away from the significance of the characters’ narratives. Scenes with Paul, Ellie and their respective families are especially amusing. Their worlds are so different, yet alike in how adorably chaotic their family dynamics are.
The movie is marketed as “a different kind of love story”, and it certainly is. It sheds light on the difficulty of dealing with queer identities, particularly in a small, conservative town. Wu’s execution of the narrative was well done, neither playing up or erasing the fact that Ellie is in love with a girl. It’s simply a love story, but it’s also an important one that we certainly haven’t had enough in the media. On top of that, Asian American and immigrant identities are also tackled in the movie in a way that isn’t contrived or pandering. The Half of It is a breath of fresh air in this sense.
Despite the somewhat anticlimactic conclusion, The Half of It is an overall joy to watch and a much needed movie in today’s climate. Alice Wu shows us what life, and love, really is. It’s messy and painful, yet full of hope and promise. The Half of It reminds us that they’re worth fighting for.
The Half of It is available for streaming on Netflix.
Watch the trailer below: