Content Note: reference to/critical treatment of homomisia and racism
Ellie (Leah Lewis) is an excellent student who has a profitable side business in writing papers for her classmates. When Paul (Daniel Diemer) approaches her to ask whether she would write a love letter to Aster (Alexxis Lemire) for him, Ellie declines at first. Not only because she finds it unethical per se, but also because she is in love with Aster herself. But she finally agrees anyway because she and her father (Collin Chou) really need the money. As Paul and Ellie work on the letter together, they develop a real friendship – and Ellie falls ever more for Aster.
The Half of It is a supercute film that sagely mentions at the beginning that it doesn’t tell a love story. Because all signs point to romance here and the film just doesn’t deliver that. That is definitely disappointing, but at least we have been warned. While I did hope for more romance, I enjoyed the film I got.
The Half of It has an unusual and slightly quaint setting that works very well for the story and gives the entire film a nice sense of humor as a backdrop. It sets the stage nicely for its characters – and they are the central thing here, especially Ellie and Paul. Aster remains more of a cypher, although she is definitely more than just a dream girl.
In any case, in the end, the film is much more about the friendship between Ellie and Paul than both their crushes on Aster – that’s just the catalyst so they become friends in the first place. For a second there it looks like the film ends on a note between Ellie and Aster (one that was both nice and frustrating at the same time) and I was ready to be angry about that, but the film finally turns back to Ellie and Paul and ends beautifully. Diemer and Lewis are great discoveries for me. They do a fantastic job with their characters and together. Especially Lewis is really striking – and I wanted to wrap myself in her voice.
The film isn’t all fluff. Not that fluff is a bad thing, but managing to combine fluff with more serious things is an impressive ability – and Wu definitely brings that to the table. So we also get a look at racism that Ellie experiences directly and in the experiences of her father. (Generally, Ellie and her father were the absolute cutest together.) And when Paul realizes that Ellie is gay, his reaction shows the deep-seated homomisia he has been taught. Fortunately, he manages to overcome the hate.
Despite all of these good things, there is a tinge of sadness in me because there is no big happy end for Ellie and Aster – because I’m pretty sure if this film had been about a straight couple, we would have got that happy end. I did manage to enjoy the film anyway, but I probably would have enjoyed it even more if they had ridden off into the sunset together, metaphorically speaking. As is, at least we got an interracial queer possible-pairing and some hope that maybe at some point, the possibility will turn to fact. Maybe they’ll make a sequel. I’d definitely watch that.
Summarizing: As long as you don’t expect a romance, it is great.