In Between: Our Review of ‘The Half of It’ on Netflix

Posted in Netflix, What's Streaming? by - May 04, 2020
In Between: Our Review of ‘The Half of It’ on Netflix

Critics have pitched The Half of It as Cyrano de Northwest. But since I haven’t brushed up on my French literature I see this more as a regional Pygmalion. The person doing the makeover is Ellie Chiu (Leah Lewis), writing letters for Paul (Daniel Diemer). He’s a foodie slash jock who is in love, or at least the adolescent version of it, with Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). Ellie’s first letter is a monologue from a Wim Wenders film, a faux pas that Aster catches. But she convinces Paul that they can overcome the gaff.

The film, then, reveals early on that Ellie wants to write more letters for understandably ulterior motives. It establishes that she has feelings for Aster. Ellie’s regular gig is writing essays for her high school classmates for money. She’s also charging Paul for the letters so that she can help pay for her father’s (Collin Chou) electric bill. Emotional feelings aside, Ellie sees Aster’s call out as an intellectual challenge.

It’s nice to see female characters outsmart each other this way. Nonetheless, this scam isn’t the easiest, since there’s always the risk of Aster finding out what Ellie and Paul are up to. Although of course it makes sense that Paul is poetic in text form but freezes up during dates with Aster because some people are like that. But Paul isn’t just the boy in between two girls, since he and Ellie behave like lovers without calling it that.

I have no memory of my high school life. So I will always question films like this and how it writes these characters. Ellie is smarter than an adult’s conception of a teen, and Paul is the opposite. Most people, regardless of age, are in between, and it doesn’t seem like it shows the middle ground here. It shows extremes in the IQ department here. But at least shows a variety when it comes to their emotional intelligence. That intelligence also exists in a film capably capturing what it’s like to write for money, a predicament not as soulless as its premise. This, then, exists as a meta-text.

Being a remake of a European text is an interesting foundation in a film with many references to Western texts. Ellie’s dad is a film lover, watching films that obviously reflects her love life. But those references reflect that both Ellie and her father are immigrants living and navigating a Western framework. Both characters start out as archetypes who eventually find their freedom. And the film shows that freedom unfold in a world that allows the characters populating it to experience levity and love. Two elements that the film pushes with its performances. Lewis and Diemer meet every expectation that the writer and director Alice Wu makes for them.

Lewis captures the cynicism of a young female character. One who, at first, only gets people to talk to her when they need something. Diemer is capable in playing someone who, on the surface is ‘dumb’. Lemire gives my favorite performance of the young cast, having the vocal range of someone who can sing old sings. She also pulls off aloofness and niceness simultaneously. Chou leads the film’s contingent of sad adults, getting a monologue reminding audiences of adults’ past lives. Adults, especially ones of color, once experienced love, an emotion that’s as haunting as it messy. And since I’m me I also gravitate to supporting actresses like Becky Ann Baker and Catherine Curtin. Both are great additions to this melting pot of characters.

Stream The Half of It on Netflix.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
Comments are closed.