If you told me that The Half of It really isn’t a “story about love” like the trailer says it would be, I wouldn’t have asked my friend to Netflix Party it with me. I would have scoffed, said that queer Asian girls needed to see their happy, romantic endings, too, because I needed to see that.
Instead, the movie gently delivers a sincere, heartfelt message telling queer girls that they deserve every kind of love imaginable, and while The Half of It marked the end of Alice Wu’s 16-year hiatus since her 2004 film Saving Face, she continues to depict Asian culture with careful direction and a cautious eye. This time, race isn’t overt but just faintly present, both punctual and reflective of a time where the world is divided by hatred and discrimination.
From the beginning, introverted Ellie Chu (“Nancy Drew” actress Leah Lewis) stands out in her small town of Squahamish, where she’s one of the only Asian girls at her high school. As a side business, she writes essays for her classmates, and it’s because of this that makes football player Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) recruit her for his grand scheme of winning over Squahamish’s local sweetheart Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). Through handwritten letters, late-night conversations and messages filled with lines of unrelated emojis, a love triangle slowly forms as both Ellie and Paul find themselves enchanted by Aster.
It’s hard to watch a movie like The Half of It and not see some part of yourself in it. Though the film’s main trio are in high school, they make you remember what it’s like to be young and dealing with love, which often ends up being unbelievably messy. Ellie struggles to understand that true love exists, only seeing what it’s like to genuinely love and love “in the moment” because of Paul and how he feels about Aster, who also wrestles around with the idea of it. Soon, these high schoolers see and validate each other in ways that lead to their eventual growth, their chemistry with one another challenging these initial thoughts they had on love.
“Only in high school is everything heightened, every feeling the first and therefore only time you will feel this feeling,” Wu wrote in her director’s note, which was posted on Twitter. “And frankly when it comes to love, don’t we all regress to being teenagers?”
She definitely doesn’t fail to capture the queer, youthful aspect of it either: The sapphic feelings of yearning, of needing validation in a world that seems determined to erase that part of a person’s identity. The romantic feelings Ellie has for Aster changes the dynamic of everyone’s relationships too, and it’s through this quiet, monumental change that they all realize they can be lost and searching for something–anything, really–and find something even greater at the end of the tunnel.
The movie doesn’t crash and fall into a steady, romantically happy ending like other queer coming-of-age films, because no one really gets what they want as the trailer alludes. There aren’t any high highs or low lows. There is, however, a soft landing that maps out a promising future for all three of Wu’s endearing characters, which leaves the audience feeling both nostalgic and hopeful by the time we see them enter a new chapter in their lives.
If you were like me, desperate to see some sort of romantic ending for Ellie and Aster, The Half of It will genuinely surprise you in ways you won’t expect. And though this sweet and amusing coming-of-age film is still technically a romance movie, the other half of it will be just as worth it.
Featured photo courtesy of Netflix.