Coming15 years after her debut, Saving Face, Alice Wu’s second feature, which she wrote and directed — The Half of It — recently won the main award at the Tribeca Film Festival. Like Saving Face , the protagonist of this Netflix film also features a gay Chinese-American woman, with various elements in the film pulled from Alice’s life.
The Half of It takes the age-old story of Cyrano de Bergerac (seen in films from Steve Martin-starrer Roxanne , and romcom Set It Up to teen movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser ) and gives it an LGBTQ+ twist. The film also references teen movies ( Pretty in Pink,The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls) while subverting certain tropes from the same genre.
Smart but isolated Ellie Chu lives in a small town called Squahamish with her father, who hasn’t quite recovered from the death of his wife years earlier. While he has a job as station master at the railway station (despite having a PhD in engineering from China), it is Ellie who has been fulfilling his responsibilities after the death of her mother.
Preferring to keep her head down (the only friend figure in her life is her English teacher Mrs Geselschap who urges her to leave town for college), she makes money by writing other students’ essays for them, something Mrs G knows but does not object to because otherwise she would have to read utter bilge (on Plato and Sartre no less).
- Cast: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire
- Director: Alice Wu
- Runtime: 1 hour 45 min
- Storyline: Smart but isolated teen Ellie Chu decides to help another student write a letter to his crush (and hers) in return for some much-needed cash. Doing so changes her world in unexpected ways
Things change when instead of a ghost-written essay, awkward but endearing football player Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) seeks Ellie’s help to write a letter to his crush (and her secret crush), Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). In need of cash, Ellie agrees to help.
While Paul is an athlete who dreams of changing his family’s sausage recipe and just wants someone to try his invention of a taco sausage, pretty girl Aster faces the problem of being forced to fit into the ‘popular’ girl mould at school, while wanting to pursue art and not marry her good-looking but dumb boyfriend.
As Ellie and Paul spend more and more time together, with Ellie figuring out the right words to say to Aster (first via letters and then messaging), and both working on knowing her likes and dislikes (the binoculars may be a bit much though), Ellie discovers that Aster may be the one person who can match her wit and humour and who truly gets her. While Aster does not know that the words are Ellie’s, she and Ellie form a burgeoning connection in person.
The heart of the movie, however, is the friendship that springs up between Ellie and Paul. Both Leah Lewis and Daniel Diemer stand out playing the respective characters and the film makes sure to show us the many ways the two care about each other.
The film also touches on other topics apart from love and friendship, such as identity, the immigrant experience, small-town America, religion, and finding your own path in life.
Ellie and her father watch a classic film every night from His Girl Friday to Casablanca. “… I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. ”
The train scene from Ek Villain makes an appearance in The Half of It . Missed the chance to have the most iconic Hindi film train scene in there.
If you are wondering about the title, Ellie, in voiceover, explains what the ancient Greeks believed, accompanied bya lovely animated sequence.
The Half of It is currently streaming on Netflix