The Half Of It - Leah Lewis, Alexxis Lemire - Photo Credit: Netflix / KC Bailey
Director and screenwriter Alice Wu shared a personal story in the director’s notes for Netflix Originals teen LGBTQ flick, “The Half of It.” “The first time I had my heart broken after coming out as lesbian was not by a girl, but by a guy. A straight white guy from the heartland, no less,” she said. Wu and a guy best friend were forced to break off their friendship after his girlfriend became wary of their closeness. “And he said, ‘She’s not worried we’ll sleep together. She’s threatened by our intimacy.’ I always remembered that,” she adds.
“The Half of It” is a not-so-usual treatment for a coming-of-age romantic comedy cliché. It follows the story of shy, English teacher’s favorite Ellie Wu who’s hired by sweet but dense jock Paul Munsky to help him win over popular girl Aster Flores. However, it’s a complicated dance with Ellie also attracted to Aster and growing into the unlikely friendship she starts to build with Paul.
Not without its share of faults, the premise of the story is technically catfishing. Although it does rebuke the act by the end of the movie, it seems to make light of a cultural phenomenon that in recent years has had a number of people who were deeply affected. Still, I can’t dismiss its merits. The film is one of Netflix’s forays into young adult releases highlighting Asian and LGBT representation. Compared to “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” and “Never Have I Ever,” it’s more constrained. Initially written with the lead characters in their 20s, some of Ellie and Aster’s exchanges sometimes sound like collegiate-level banter. Although it might not seem like an accurate depiction of high school (Has a movie ever got high school right? I doubt it.), it’s nice that these kids are taken seriously instead of being the butt of a deprecatory script’s jokes.
There are a number of touching moments with Ellie’s dad as the focal point. There are scenes that briefly discuss immigration challenges and issues of race. They’re spread across the movie but race is ever-present because family is also at the heart of it. In a Netflix interview, Wu said, “There’s this one moment when Aster’s father speaks to her in Spanish. One very simple line, ‘Sit up straight’— when they’re in front of company. Any kid who has grown up with any parents from another culture will immediately know that moment when you’re basically asked to not pass, embarrassed and out of your control.”
Ellie and Aster aren’t the only ones with family woes—it’s interesting to watch the difference between what the American dream might mean from Ellie’s will-I-won’t-I chase a possible career by going to college in a different city and Paul’s dilemma of wanting to change a family recipe to keep passed-down-from-generations food business afloat.
“The Half of It” plays with a lot of elements and so lives up to calling itself “a different kind of love story.”
“The Half of It” is available on Netflix. Check the trailer below.