Film Review: The Half of It

I get why a lot of the audience is having a strong positive reaction to Alice Wu’s The Half of It, and while I can appreciate that, I cannot be persuaded into thinking that it’s more than an OK film that struggles to effectively tell the stories it has set out to.

Basic Synopsis: A big, lovable doofus asks the class intellect to write letters to the girl he loves for him, not knowing that she too loves her. Cue the teen philosophizing.

Brief Thoughts: The movie starts with a disclaimer: “In case you haven’t guessed, this is not a love story. Or not one where anyone gets what they want.” Well, actually it starts with some Greek theory about the two halves of a whole person, but honestly that’s not that relevant. What is is that the romantic love our leads are searching for isn’t actually the most important thing here. I just wished the film remembered that.

Whether it was the content of the correspondences or the simple fact that lengthy spans of voiceover is my focal kryptonite, I quickly found myself losing interest in the romantic love angle of the story. As quickly as Aster should’ve when Paul said “I like Nazis” on their first date. But hey, there are slim pickins in a small town where getting engaged as a teenager and chanting “The Chinese girl came” is deemed totally cool and normal behavior, so if your current boyfriend isn’t doing it for you, might as well see how a second (or even third) option makes you feel. Personally it made me feel pretty unenthused, and considering the film seemed to lose Aster altogether in the big high school experience scenes of the senior talent show and after party, scenes one of the most popular girls in school should feel obligated to be at, it seemingly felt the same way. I’m here for the budding friendship between Ellie and Paul (and Ellie’s dad) and the prioritization of self reflection and worth angle.

Quick Question: Obviously Ellie does little to no socializing past taking essay orders from her classmates, but how the Hell does she not know what “hanging out” means?

Favorite Line: “I am a Russian doll of clothing.” Funny line, but it’s super uncomfortable contextually.

Biggest Complaint: Unfortunately the film seemed to have an identity crisis when it was just starting to get adorably charming and forced the love triangle back to the forefront with some rather awkward (and not in an endearing way) scenes that felt extremely forced. For some reason Aster wants to take a day trip with someone she has only had one extremely brief can’t-even-call-it-a-conversation-really experience with – a warning to all teens watching this movie: if a stranger takes you out to their secret spot in the middle of the woods and immediately points out there’s no cell service out there, run. I don’t care how attractive they are. You’re about to be murdered – suddenly Paul’s feelings escalate in a random direction (seriously, he is SO dumb), the church becomes extremely important and pervasive in everyone’s belief systems, and everything falls apart. The final scenes of resolution do manage to overcome these major flaws, but by then the damage is already done.

Final Thoughts: Based on the frequency viewers are saying things like “I feel seen” on Letterboxd and twitter, it’s clear The Half of It was needed, and I’m happy the story inspired by the director/writer’s own experience found its audience. I just wish it had a stronger overall arc that did a better job honing in on what actually matters most to the film (i.e. how important telling Aster’s story is compared to Ellie and Paul’s. If it’s just as important then don’t lose track of her for long periods of time; and if it’s less important then stop forcing her back in because this in between does not work).

So what’d you think of The Half of It? Be sure to let me know in the comments below or over on twitter, where you can find me at BewareOfTrees.

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