“The Half of It” has a whole lot of heart


Courtesy of Netflix

Zia Sampson

While the plot of new Netflix film “The Half of It” may be cheesy at times, the coming-of-age story from director Alice Wu manages to tell an enjoyable and heartwarming tale about friendship and finding oneself.

The film follows quiet outcast Ellie Chu, played by Leah Lewis, as she ghost writes love letters to Aster Flores, played by Alexxis Lemire, who is the most popular girl in school. She does this on behalf of her friend, the lovable and awkward Paul Munsky, played by Daniel Diemer. Both Paul and Ellie are in love with Aster, but Ellie hides her feelings from Paul for the majority of the film. As they work together, Ellie and Paul become close friends, while Aster starts reaching out to Ellie.

The film could easily be mistaken as another “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” romcom derivative. However, there is so much more to it. While there’s the romance plot, it acts more as a vehicle for the budding friendship between Paul and Ellie. Their relationship takes center-stage as they teach each other in different ways.

At the start of the film, Ellie is focused on staying strong for her father Edwin, played by Collin Chou, a Chinese immigrant who has isolated himself since his wife passed away. When she meets Paul and he starts inspiring her to start taking risks in love and life with his passion for Aster and his hopes for his family business, Ellie later learns that it is okay to embrace her passions.

In turn, Ellie teaches Paul how to better accept and express himself. Born into a family business, he had been too scared to act on his new ideas and communicate with his family. By working with Ellie to write the letters to Aster, he learns not only what to say, but how to say it.

In terms of character development, Aster Flores shows the most growth in the film. She started the movie dating Trig, played by Wolfgang Novogratz, a jock who has already settled with the fact that Aster would marry her high school sweetheart and settle for the security of small town mediocrity. As she receives the letters from “Paul” and starts to talk to Ellie, she sees that there are other options, as long as she is willing to make those bold strokes.

“The Half of It” explores serious concepts like immigration and being gay in a conservative area. Wu has tackled both LGBTQ+ and Chinese culture in previous films like 2004’s “Saving Face.” As a director, she shines with mainly focusing on how the characters are feeling. She also effectively uses lighting techniques to control what the audience is seeing.

The soundtrack works well to evoke a small town atmosphere, as well as the antique notions that it holds. Besides the soundtrack, Alice Wu has created three Spotify playlists, “Aster,” “Ellie,” and “Paul,” to help people better understand the characters.

While three main characters are fleshed out, the side characters in the film, with the exception of Ellie’s father, are one-dimensional stereotypes. Trig is portrayed as a bully with the usual clichés, while teacher Mrs. Geselchap, played by Becky Ann Baker, constantly complains about her way of life in an uninteresting fashion.

Also, there are some scenes that feel out of place, especially the one in which the teacher confronts Ellie about the love letters. Sometimes it plays too much into coming-of-age clichés, but it is overall a cute movie.

“The Half of It” is a comfort movie that goes the extra mile. It has some very artistic moments, but it also makes a point to normalize representation in the media. It portrays an LGBTQ+ Asian American in a role that is traditionally reserved for a straight white girl and embraces the cultural differences in priorities and challenges. At the end of the day, “The Half of It” is uplifting and has a whole lot of heart.

To watch “The Half of It,” click here.

Illustration by Ariel Landry
Illustration by Ariel Landry