The Half of It
What makes a good love story?
The Half of It isn’t a love story, insists the narrating voice of Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis, Nancy Drew TV series) right from the beginning.
And as the story unfolds, we see that Ellie is right, in a way. But in another way, it’s one of the coolest modern love stories I’ve seen in a while.
The latest teen rom-com from Netflix is beautifully written and directed by Alice Wu (Saving Face) and thanks to its striking script, sure-handed shots, and charming cast, it was a hit at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
It starts with a scenario we’ve all seen countless times in coming-of-age movies: nerdy girl in high school doesn’t fit in with the popular crowd (our hero Ellie Chu is basically invisible except when her classmates are paying her to write their essays).
And like many other movies, The Half of It also starts with a teen love triangle. Pretty girl Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire, The Art of Murder) is dating senior superstar Trig (Wolfgang Novogratz, The Last Summer). Cute (but less popular) jock Paul (Daniel Diemer, The Man in the High Castle) is also totally smitten with Aster, but because he’s “bad at words” he recruits ace student Ellie to help him write just one love letter to help make a good impression. Well... at least it starts as just one letter!
I absolutely loved where the movie went from there. I think because, despite it being a story chock full of crushes and fluttery feelings, it’s a love story that’s not really about romance!
It’s about the love of a daughter for her father.
The love that grows between new friends as they learn to admire each other and discover ways to laugh together.
The bravery of learning to love yourself when you look different, feel different, and live differently from everyone else in your tiny rural town.
Late in the movie, one character reflects, “I always thought there was one way to love. One right way. But there are more. So many more than I knew.”
That love triangle I mentioned from the beginning of the movie? Forget it. The lines are crossing every which way, and in the end, we aren’t wondering “who gets the girl?” because the layers of friendship and attraction have just blasted off to way more interesting places.
I’ve always been a sucker for platonic love: friendships that are filled with affection but don’t rely on sexual or romantic attraction. In high school, my relationships looked like letter-writing, taking long walks in the park, and swing dancing with friends instead of dating or making out. But most movies, let’s be honest, tend to focus a lot more on sex and romance. So even though those things do play a part in The Half of It, the way it complicates the classic cinematic depiction of high school relationships made me cheer, and sets it apart into a more nuanced category of coming-of-age flicks.
So, that’s one kid’s case for The Half of It. Whether you were the jock, the nerd, the popular kid, the religious kid, the kid from the immigrant family, the quiet queer kid who hasn’t come out yet, or a combination of the above, I suspect there’s something here that just might make you (or the teen version of you) feel pretty darn seen.