The Half of It Review: Netflix’s newest teen romance film is deeply emotional and gratifying
Writer/director Alice Wu’s newest film, The Half of It, is an original romance movie that delves into discovering love and yourself at a pivotal age through an engaging style and charismatic characters.
The film follows Ellie (Leah Lewis), a smart but broke high school student looking for a better life outside of the dead-end town of Squahamish and only making money by doing essays for lazier students. One day, Paul (Daniel Diemer), a jock, asks Ellie to write a love letter for him to his crush Aster (Alexxis Lemire) – essentially the prettiest girl in school. Reluctantly, Ellie begins to help Paul and the two grow a close bond that’s eventually is threatened as they both begin to develop feelings for Aster. As they begin to wrestle with their emotions, they begin to discover themselves and new perspectives on love.
It’s amazing how The Half of It can talk about love and life in such a philosophical and sort of intellectual way without it ever coming off pretentious or trying to be overly thought-provoking. The quotes from writers like Oscar Wilde and the conversations about art and movies between Ellie and Aster actually carry some personal meaning that plays a strong part into what makes these characters so endearing and interesting. Watching Ellie come out of her lonely shell through talking to Aster as Paul and growing a strong friendship with Paul is really gratifying and there’s so much growth that happens between everyone that’s really touching because how Wu builds their characters and the atmosphere of Squahamish.
There really isn’t many films that touch on the idea of growing up in small town like this film does and I love how growing up in Squahamish and their families play a strong role in their thinking. Wu does a great job establishing certain influences, like the town church that Aster’s father works in and that everyone in town attends, and the lifestyles that Ellie, Paul, and Aster that they are born into. There’s this level of maturity and growing up that these characters have had to do and are still doing that immediately attaches you to their struggles as they decide what’s best for them. These elements never overstep their boundaries or consume the story and end up adding much more depth to the characters and their personal struggles. It leads to some very compelling conflicts that are very relatable and add to the complexity of their situations as they attempt to understand the romantic feelings that tie them all together.
Just as there’s a complex story about teens discovering themselves as they enter adulthood, there’s an equally deep and compelling story about love and figuring out what it really means to love. With Ellie having good social interactions for the first time, Paul just discovering what he thinks is love towards Aster, and Aster beginning to wonder about a life outside of her religious upbringing in Squahamish, there’s this indecisiveness and worry about them putting themselves out there in a new way that’s really interesting to watch. Wu really takes viewers every step of the film’s journey and leaves no stones unturned in delving into all of the growth each of them have. Scenes like Ellie and Aster slowly creating art together, Paul and Ellie’s training sessions for his dates with Aster, and even the small scenes between Ellie and her father (Collin Chu) watching movies all build in creating these incredible arcs that truly that “feel good” magic.
All of this builds to give viewers a unique vision of love that’s impactful, honest, and just as genuine as its characters. The one thing that made me instantly love Paul from the start was his more “common” knowledge compared to the more philosophical and logical thinking of Ellie and usually Aster. For all of the book smarts Ellie has, Paul is much more street smart and see these two things come together not only creates a balance that’s sort of calming, but also a view of love that’s eventually proclaimed that comes off very relatable and real. The film is definitely unafraid for its characters to make mistakes or have selfish intentions because they’re generally good-hearted and, as a viewer, it’s very easy to see that and it makes you instantly care about their stories and growth. Not to mention, everyone gives such equally strong, compassionate, and caring performances that it’s easy to ignore some of the negative qualities that are subtly there – like Paul’s sudden religious background that comes out when Ellie’s true feelings emerge and Astor technically cheating on her “boyfriend” Trig (Wolfgang Novogratz) throughout the film.
There’s also a really strong element of humor that’s really great and creates some genuine charm that any viewer will love. From Paul’s obsession with getting his sausage taco creation to hit it big to the way that he’s always chasing Ellie when she’s on her bike and it suddenly makes him better at football, the film has that coming of age charm that’s always on-point. There’s even a moment where Paul’s mom reluctantly says that she would be okay with him gay but not okay with him changing their family’s sausage recipe that’s really funny. Wu also implements some great visuals that are incredibly engaging and elevate the simple text conversations between the characters. It actually surprised me how effective Wu is at using text to create more visual storytelling, like during Paul and Aster’s dates and Ellie and Aster creating art together, and it makes you much more engaged as a viewer.
While Netflix has plenty of movies on its platform, both good and bad, there aren’t as many as deeply emotional, genuine, and relatable as The Half of It. It’s standout direction and story from Wu make it a film that cannot be missed and harnesses the meaningful messages about life and love and feel good vibes are something that we could all use right now. It’s a true must-watch.