Netflix UK film review: The Half of It
Katie Smith-Wong | On 23, May 2020
Director: Alice Wu
Cast: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire
Watch The Half of It online in the UK: Netflix UK
Marking her second directorial feature, The Half of It is Alice Wu’s follow-up to her 2004 debut Saving Face. The film stars Leah Lewis as Alice Chu, a smart but lonely student who makes a living by writing papers for her fellow students. She is soon approached by football player Paul (Daniel Diemer), who wants her to help win over popular girl Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). Through Ellie’s letters, Paul and Aster form a connection only for Ellie to develop feelings for her too.
Although The Half of It follows 2018’s Sierra Burgess Is a Loser as another modern take on Cyrano de Bergerac, it offers the conventional themes of unrequited love and confusion with Wu’s own refreshing perspective. Through the inquisitive Ellie, the filmmaker allows her protagonist to explore other relationships (platonic and romantic) in her small American town, where racist bullying isolates her from her peers.
Her personal hardships do not help, either – with her dad Edwin (Collin Chou) unable to speak English, she essentially does his rail-signalling job and writes essays for household bill payments. While this reflects the difficulties of being a Chinese immigrant in America, it also highlights the harsh reality of a parent being unable to provide for their family. Ellie’s resignation of being stuck in a small town further feeds her misery.
This is where Paul comes in. Through a request for a love letter, he offers her a chance to express herself in a way that’s new to her, forming a trust and friendship that doesn’t come with a price tag. Together, they unwittingly bond over their feelings for Aster, who – like Ellie – feels unable to express herself due to a sense of imposed popularity.
Lewis, Diener and Lemire offer subtle performances while delivering Wu’s tender screenplay through emotions, rather than belly laughs or hormones. As a result, all three characters do not succumb to being typecast or clichéd. Instead, they bring a realism to the traditional teen romance that reminds audiences that sometimes, the happily ever after can be delivered in a different way. And in the case of The Half of It, it makes it all the sweeter.
The Half of It is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.