WELCOME TO DOUBLE TAKE, OUR FREQUENT COLLABORATIVE WRITING SERIES FROM THE ON THE CLOCK TEAM, IN WHICH TWO OR MORE MEMBERS OF OUR WRITING COMMITTEE REVIEW THE SAME FILM, EITHER WITH A SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT OPINION. TODAY’S ARTICLE IS ON ALICE WU’S THE HALF OF IT, WHICH IS CURRENTLY STREAMING WORLDWIDE ON NETFLIX.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Lesbian cult classic Saving Face director Alice Wu’s The Half Of It may be the first time a Netflix original romcom wasn’t a regrettable viewing experience, and that’s because it isn’t a romcom at all. Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is one of few coming of age protagonists to actually feel realistic, with music choices and favorite books cropping up throughout the movie that would really belong to a teenager slightly ahead of her time. The Cyrano de Bergerac derivative plot is fitted nicely to suburban small-town America, whether or not the device of love letters between teenagers actually feels genuine. The choice not to have a storybook ending between young lovers is perhaps the strongest aspect, with secret places and hardly hidden truths coming out as they really would, and a natural teenage hesitance holding Aster (Alexxis Lemire) and Ellie apart for longer. It’s a realist film in the end, one that reassures that it’s okay not to have young love work out at first, as sometimes it’s about what comes alongside it.
I find myself wondering why I was left with a lukewarm reaction to the end result. Sure, there were moments I saw my younger self in, and moments I smiled at knowing how real it all was. But the central platonic friendship weakened the film strongly. The stereotypical jock character is used, like in so many teenage self realization tales where here he is thrown by our protagonist’s revelation of her sexual orientation. We are given a scene of Daniel Diemer’s Paul confronting his prejudices and deconstructs how his religion has induced homophobic ideals for him. However, instead of fully exploring these themes, this scene is just a hollow realization that these convictions were never strongly formed to begin with, if they are confronted so easily. It’s a missed opportunity to show how these prejudice-drawn battle lines develop and fall apart at a young age, but it’s instead only touched upon, and feels like an afterthought that never brings the nuance it hopes to bring to the table.
The Half Of It should be praised for never quite falling into Love, Simon territory. The gay teenagers here are realistic, and there’s acknowledgement that Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Seventeen’ is an unofficial anthem for so many teenage lesbians these days. Ellie is fully fleshed out and is allowed moments of self-actualization outside just her lesbianism. The Half Of It is an LGBTQ+ film by us, for us, targeted towards a tween/teen audience. The film evidently skews young, but it’s sleepover entertainment for a new generation that doesn’t completely talk down to them, and it’s story that needs to be heard.
It’s been sixteen long years since we’ve last seen Alice Wu behind the camera in feature form. Her breakout hit Saving Face is widely considered as one of the most remarkable indie romcoms of the early 2000’s. So why did it take so long for Alice Wu to deliver her sophomore effort? To this day, I’m still unsure. However, I’m glad she’s back, better than ever, with her latest film The Half of It. What could have easily been overly saturated coming of age dramedy, Alice Wu has proven yet again that even with familiar material, she can still pull out a nuanced character piece with the limitations of a weak narrative.
Opening with a majestic and downright poetic animation sequence, Wu seduces the audience into a world of banal normality; a suburban hell where our principal trio of characters find themselves in a complex relationship of emotional repression and social norms. Wu’s fast paced interpretation of the standard love triangle formula narrowly differentiates itself from the rest of the crowd. Instead of directly appealing to a generation Z demographic with reference humor and groan worthy gags, Wu instead treats her characters as fully-fleshed humans. There’s no villain or hero in The Half of It. It’s a film about three unique individuals, who find themselves in a situation of relationship adversity. What follows is a humorous take on a classical moral dilemma of human ethics and passion.
Instantaneously enjoyable and thoroughly detailed and humane in it’s execution, Wu’s sophomore endeavor is an enchanting coming of age parable. The timing also couldn’t have been more perfect for the release of the film. It’s an appealing joint for high schoolers, and works brilliantly as a throwback to John Hughes-esque classics. Especially for graduating students like myself, who may or may not have a traditional graduation ceremony/reception, The Half of It is a perfect piece of slice of life entertainment to fulfill our boorish quarantine routines and fantasies.
The Half of It is Now Streaming on Netflix