Though we are a month away from pride month, it’s always nice to see LGBTQ representation on film. The Half Of It, a teen love story with a lesbian lead, hits Netflix today. In it, writer and director Alice Wu creates a really intimate story of a LGBTQ teen struggling to connect to the world around her. Despite a very talented cast, the film’s over-reliance on teen troupes detracts from the wonderfully authentic relationships developing on film.
Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis of CW’s Nancy Drew) is a quiet band nerd content living in her small town. She spends her days alone, writing everybody else’s English papers and crushing on popular girl Aster. Paul (newcomer Daniel Diemer), unknowingly shares that crush and asks Ellie to help him write Aster. As the pair gets closer and the letter-writing seems to work, things get complicated and Ellie starts to question her identity and her future.
Story-wise, the film derives itself from Cyrano de Bergerac, the 19th-century play, written by Edmond Rostand. In it, a man writes love notes to a girl on behalf of his friend. He loves her himself as well but feels that his nose is too big and therefore won’t like him. In The Half of It, the big nose is switched to being LGBTQ, and with it a very sweet coming of age story forms.
Despite covering a love story not commonly seen in modern media, the film overly relies on tired teen tropes. There’s the talent show that doesn’t quite go as planned, paired with a secret musical talent. The film does touch upon the “dumb jock/mean girl” troupes, though very lightly, and like a lot of other things in the film, doesn’t fully commit to it. Some of the religious undertones don’t work as well as they should, especially in a film about falling in love as an LGBT individual in a small town. Because of its inability to fully commit, the film feels tonally uneven for a majority of its 104-minute runtime.
The film heavily relies on voiceover, especially early on. Text messages are just read aloud for several minutes. Can I please watch one teen movie that that doesn’t rely on voice over? The constant back and forth is grating, not innovative, and detracts from the story.
The film works best when it focuses on the friendship between Ellie and Paul. The chemistry between Diemer and Lewis is palpable and makes you want to watch them interact all day. As the lovable doofus, Diemer brings a charming and naïve quality to the dumb jock troupe, making it seem fresh and new. Lewis is truly endearing and sweet as Ellie, capturing the complex emotions that come with figuring out your sexuality. Collin Chou, who plays Ellie’s father, sneaks up on you as the immigrant father who doesn’t quite know how to interact with his daughter.
When The Half of It gives into teen movie troupes it falls flat. However, when it diverges into something original and authentic, it’s magic to watch. A genuine friendship between the gay girl and the straight guy is something that isn’t explored often in modern media. Through brilliant casting and a focus on real emotion, the film manages to save itself from being a mediocre teen movie with a gay lead.
The Half of It is available on Netflix now. Watch the trailer below.