Netflix’s newest release, a teen movie called The Half of It directed by Alice Wu, is by far one of the best teen movies I have seen in a long time. It has a grungy, small-town feel reminiscent of the cult classic teen movies of the 90s along with a comforting, familiar plot with an LGBTQ+ twist.
Imagine gazing at a screen, watching as a young Asian-American teen from a small town sits, completely still and shocked onstage. She was going to play Beethoven’s Eighth Sonata at her school’s talent show, but the assholes backstage had other ideas when they slashed the chords within the beautiful, school-owned instrument. The girl, Ellie Chu, shakes, staring at her piano as people start calling for the next act. She doesn’t know what to do until, suddenly, her new friend, a jock by the name of Paul Munsky, slides her a guitar and tells her: “Play your song.” New resolve fills her as she turns, slowly picking up the guitar and cradling it on her lap, all her focus on the music, not the crowd now whispering in confusion at this clear plot twist. Then, her fingers strum against the guitar, playing a classic and gentle tune as she begins to sing. Her voice fills the auditorium, spreading her truth and silencing the student body. You are immersed in her song, as silent as the drop of a feather, entranced until her very last note. You, like her audience, give her a standing ovation.
The Half of It is an irresistibly lovable film that combines the tropes of teen movies of the past with the social ideas and perspectives that are much more present in media of the modern-day. The movie follows a senior in high school named Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis). She’s the daughter of a railroad manager that immigrated from China and in order to make money at school, she writes essays and completes assignments for the rest of her class. This hustle of hers gains her a small reputation, not too big but enough that a jock in her grade, Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), asks her to write a letter in his name for his crush, the preacher’s daughter: Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). Although it starts with a letter, Ellie starts texting Aster pretending to be Paul and falls for Paul’s perfect crush.
This story has wonderful and three-dimensional main characters with a lot of both platonic and romantic chemistry. Ellie is sharp, witty, and very interested in literature. She is a gifted writer that, although she prefers to stay on the sidelines, isn’t afraid to speak her mind. I love the way she evolves from a shy and introverted teen to one that is much more open to social activities as she becomes closer and closer to her newest friend. Furthermore, I love that Paul Munsky, originally a kind of dorky, second-tier jock, turns into this adorable and lovable character that just wants to make his gigantic family proud as Ellie gets to know more and more about him.
Furthermore, I liked seeing a teen movie that follows an Asian American, bilingual, gay lead. It was refreshing to see the new perspective since most other teen movies have white, straight leads. Furthermore, I liked Ellie’s relationship with her father and how she’s practically taken control of her own life ever since her mother died.
In terms of sexuality, I thoroughly enjoyed how it was handled in the film. Since the movie takes place in a small town, I was worried that things might not end well for the main character, but I was pleasantly surprised as the movie took a much more nuanced approach to Ellie’s inevitable outing. Without going into too much detail, I thought the portrayal of Paul’s reaction was the most interesting of them all. Not to mention, Ellie’s romance with Aster (or her feelings for Aster) doesn’t feel forced in any way. From the moment they see the two girls cross paths on screen, the audience can feel the spark between them, instantly starting to ship the two main characters.
The cinematography of the film is also breathtaking, with aesthetically appealing backgrounds and breathtaking wide shots. The footage didn’t have grain but the audience could practically feel the “vintagey” vibes coming from the movie with each individual shot. There were moments when the movie felt so light and summery that I didn’t want it to end. Other shots were crammed with so much symbolism that I thought of pausing right there just to admire the craftsmanship on my screen.
The Half of It is the perfect film to curl up on the couch with, a bowl of popcorn on your lap. With a character-driven plot and aesthetically pleasing cinematography, I highly recommend this movie to fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Juno, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.