The Half of It evaluate: A wise, queer teen spin on Cyrano de Bergerac

The Half of It review: A smart, queer teen spin on Cyrano de Bergerac

The unique motion pictures on Netflix have usually skewed in three vastly completely different instructions. There are the apparent status performs — Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and so forth. Then there are the originals that really feel like Lifetime or Hallmark motion pictures, like The Knight Before Christmas or Secret Obsession. And then there are the style performs, like I Am Mother and Bright. So it comes as a nice shock that the most recent film to hit the platform, Alice Wu’s The Half of It, isn’t so simply categorized. The concept of a teenage model of Cyrano de Bergerac appears to lend itself to pure romantic fluff, however Wu imbues it with unbelievable depth and consideration. This isn’t a movie that’s solely involved with crushes — Wu folds within the highs and lows of dwelling in a small, conservative city, the challenges of immigrating to a brand new nation, and the thorny technique of simply rising up.

Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) runs a small enterprise writing her high-school classmates’ essays for them, and endures racist taunts (“Chugga-chugga-Chu-chu!”) on her bike experience to and from college. Her father (Collin Chou), who immigrated from China for the promise of extra alternatives overseas, works as a train-station grasp. He has a PhD in engineering, but it surely’s meaningless in a city that doesn’t see him as greater than his accent. Though Ellie’s trainer, Mrs. Geselschap (Becky Ann Baker), is aware of who’s behind all of the essays she’s studying, she encourages Ellie to use to schools past their (fictional) city of Squahamish, Washington. But Ellie can’t think about leaving her father behind. Her established order begins to vary when she receives a unique type of fee: Paul (Daniel Diemer), one of many college jocks, desires her assist writing love letters to Aster (Alexxis Lemire). The catch: Ellie is harboring a crush on Aster, too.

two people watch tv from armchairs

Leah Lewis and Collin Chou in The Half of It.
Photo: KC Bailey/Netflix

It feels sacrilegious to say {that a} teen romance succeeds by dialing down the standard teen-drama horniness, however what makes The Half of It greater than only a retread of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play (or the up to date film re-imaginings, like Roxanne or The Truth About Cats & Dogs) is its funding in its characters, fairly than its kissing. If the viewers has no funding in Paul or Aster’s experiences, the story turns into one-dimensional. But as a result of Wu, who additionally penned the script, takes the time to flesh out all three gamers within the triangle, the romance story turns into extra sophisticated than the query of whether or not Ellie and Aster will lastly get collectively.

What’s extra spectacular is that the small print that make these characters really feel so actual are simply that: particulars, fairly than extraordinary. Aster’s magnificence makes her well-liked at college, however she’s additionally anticipated to suit the cheerleader mould like the college’s different widespread ladies. Ellie is sometimes called “the Chinese girl” wherever she goes, and is so used to it that she doesn’t resist. The Half of It doesn’t must be a “big theme” film to touch upon informal racism, or stifling individuality, significantly that of younger ladies, in favor of outdated and patriarchal norms.

But Wu additionally pays consideration to the smaller elements of every character, right down to how they textual content. Paul makes use of emojis with abandon, however Ellie and Aster are each cautious about their capitalization and punctuation. As audiences get to know these characters’ quirks, the characters additionally get to know one another, making the inevitable reveal of the reality messy and protracted as an alternative of cleanly minimize.

two young women float in water

Leah Lewis and Alexxis Lemire in The Half of It.
Photo: KC Bailey/Netflix

Lewis, Deimer, and Lemire additionally make an exquisite trio. Unlike, say, the kids in Glee, they nonetheless look younger sufficient that their gawkiness round one another feels real, not contrived. Paul could also be a meathead — actually and metaphorically, as his household is within the sausage enterprise — however he’s a sweetheart, too, and his burgeoning friendship with Ellie and her father is among the film’s highlights. He’s as eager-to-please as a pet, even doing his finest to reflect Ellie’s father’s cooking strategies.

And Lewis makes it clear that Ellie’s outsider standing on the town has much less to do along with her persona than the way in which the remainder of her overwhelmingly white city sees her. Her first huge high-school social gathering, which she attends because of an invitation from Paul, sees different college students instantly speaking to her and welcoming her to play video games, regardless that she’s not doing something noticeably completely different. Ellie’s demeanor doesn’t actually change as her friendship with Paul introduces her to extra social circles. Instead, the individuals round her are overcoming their notions about her.

As Ellie states within the movie’s opening moments, this isn’t a narrative the place everybody will get what they need. The Half of Itoptions romance, but it surely’s extra of a teen drama than a rom-com, specializing in a coming-of-age immigrant story the place romance is one side of the expertise. With The Half of It, Wu has crafted a love story that tackles love in all senses, not simply romantic, prioritizing not simply who will get to kiss who, however what every character hopes and desires for. They’re so well-realized that watching The Half of It seems like the start of a brand new relationship. It’s thrilling, engaging, and stuffed with hope for what comes subsequent — on this case, seeing what else Wu has up her directorial sleeve.

The Half of It is streaming on Netflix now.

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