I have an odd obsession with films that are set in the state of Washington. I don’t know if it’s the pride of seeing my home on the screen or if it’s the recognition that someone sees something beautiful in my every day. Whatever the case, it’s always exciting to hear a movie set in Washington is being made, especially when they turn out to be as beautiful and heartwarming as Alice Wu’s The Half of It.
Set in the fictional town of Squahamish, the movie’s focus is on the friendship built between straight A student, loner Ellie and dopey yet endearing jock Paul as they try to set him up with his crush, Aster.
Ellie, played wonderfully by Leah Lewis, is a very complex and beautiful character. A fish out of water, Ellie wants nothing more than to get out of Squahamish to meet like-minded individuals. With a focus on art, music, writing and philosophy, Ellie is a complex and incredibly written character. The same can’t be said about Paul, played by Daniel Diemer, who reminds me a lot of a Paul from another teen movie, Paul Metzler from 1999’s Election. Dopey and sweet, Paul’s focus is on scoring a date with the local Deacon’s daughter, Aster (Alexxis Lemire).
Ellie and Paul’s relationship initially begins when Paul approaches Ellie with the task of writing a love letter to his crush for a fee. Reluctantly, Ellie agrees so she can pay her’s and her father’s electric bill. Through the persona of Paul, Ellie and Aster begin a relationship built on words. Eventually, a fed-up Paul asks Aster out himself and she agrees. With the help of Ellie, Aster begins to see Paul as a person she wants to be with, even when Paul begins to have eyes for Ellie.
It’s the Ellie-Paul-Aster love triangle that intrigues me the most with this film. Though it hits every predictable beat, I was still left squirming in my seat when Paul begins bombing his dates with Aster, or when he finally realizes he loves Ellie.
I think what makes The Half of It’s twist so satisfying, that being when Ellie rejects Paul’s kiss and he realizes she’s a lesbian, is that in any other rom-com for teens this moment would be the ending we all wanted. Instead, Paul’s realization leaves the audience heartbroken for both Paul and Ellie, as his reaction isn’t kind.
Although The Half of It’s story is often cliche and predictable, it’s the twist on Ellie’s character that makes the movie so moving. Though the movie doesn’t explore the idea of homosexuality as far as it could have, I see Ellie as an important character to a group of young people growing up and discovering who they are. Though I may not get what the target audience gets out of the film, I’m very happy it exists for those who, like Ellie, feel trapped in a situation they’re trying to escape.
Though I enjoyed the film, I do have my gripes with some of the choices made by Wu, who also wrote the screenplay. The film is very cliche and predictable, each beat playing out as expected. The characters outside of Ellie are underwritten, with the greatest injustice done to both Paul and Aster. We’re led to believe that Aster is, like Ellie, very eccentric, smart and a loner in her own right. Yet she never catches on to the clear fact that Paul isn’t the person she’s been talking to for months. Paul is also underwritten, oftentimes only being incredibly dense or goofy. He’s the personification of a puppy and only grows in the last twenty minutes of the film.
Though the film is incredibly predictable, I believe that the coming-of-age for Ellie is a beautiful one that left me hoping she’ll find her true self once she leaves the town where she felt alone.. It’s the true feeling of longing and realizing what it takes to love that makes The Half of It a definite watch for any quarantined family movie night, especially one with teens.
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