Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Half of It - Movie Review

The Movie: The Half of It

The Director: Alice Wu

The Cast: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Wolfgang Novogratz, Collin Chou, Becky Ann Baker, Enrique Murciano, Catherine Curtin

The Story: When smart but cash-strapped teen Ellie Chu agrees to write a love letter for a jock, she doesn't expect to become his friend - or fall for his crush.

The Review:
If Alice Wu is only going to write and direct a movie every sixteen years, I hope each one is as heartfelt and meaningful as this movie is. As I'm typing this, I have yet to watch her debut feature Saving Face although I will be fixing that oversight real soon. What Alice has done here is recreate the high school comedy by tearing up all the Hollywood formulas and just making a good, quality movie. She fills the space with real people living in real places and doing real things, it is honestly quite refreshing. The thing that then makes the film extra special is in how entertaining it is even as a sort of anti formula story.

Actually, let me correct that, the movie is not anti anything, it's about as inclusive and welcoming of a story as you will find, especially as it digs into material in a way we don't normally see. Leah Lewis is a breath of fresh air in the lead role as Ellie Chu yet she is also all of us in a very familiar way. The way she navigates the emotional turmoils and missteps of young adulthood that Alice Wu fills the character with is quite impressive and you kind of get lost in her performance because you realize she's also you in so many ways.

"I never thought about the oppression of fitting in before."

That statement, made by Ellie Chu, made me press pause on the movie and go back to listen to it again. This is a thought that I had never really considered before and to hear it laid out so plainly in the context of where it's at in the movie was definitely a whoa moment. I mean, we've seen countless stories of high school kids not fitting in and how hard it is to navigate the social pressures of being a teenager, but to put it that way is a bit of a revelation in thinking. Wu's exploration of the high school experience in terms of relationships, sexual orientation, family, and how standardized gender roles have an impact in all of those areas is very profound

For most of the movie, Leah is paired up with Daniel Diemer and they make a really fun on screen duo without ever having their friendship sexualized or pandering to typical high school stereotypes. Both of the characters are thoughtful human beings who just happen to also be teenagers prone to making the kind of mistakes that teenagers tend to make. Alexxis Lemire is on board as Aster who ends up being the love interest to both Ellie and Paul and I like how she allows the character to explore her own identity in a way that doesn't cheapen her experience within the story.

It was also nice to see Collin Chou in a surprisingly understated and subtle performance as Ellie's father. You would most recognize him from the Matrix sequels as Seraph although he's been in so many movies and most recently had a starring role in Gatao 2: Rise of the King. I loved how Wu was able to weave in a very heartfelt family component to the story as well with Chau's character Edwin having to make some realizations of his own when it comes to connecting with his daughter. Overall, this is a very well rounded story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Verdict:
The Half of It is a beautifully told tale of identity and self realization that defies convention by just being authentic. Alice Wu, please make more movies and don't wait another 16 years to do it.

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