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.
Ellie Chu has been writing her classmate’s essays in exchange for extra cash and has earned a reputation as a bit of a wordsmith. She’s quiet, smart, keeps to herself, and has been known to occasionally pine for her classmate Aster Flores from afar – emphasis on afar, since Ellie lives in what might be the world’s most religious small town. So when dumb jock Paul Munsky asks her to help him compose love letters to his crush, ahem, Aster Flores, Ellie sees an opportunity to make some extra money and finally drum up the courage to talk to her crush…even if by “talking,” she’s actually writing letters from someone else. A classic Cyrano de Bergerac situation! As expected, Aster and Ellie grow closer through their letters, but what Ellie doesn’t expect is to grow closer to Paul as well. As she’s getting to know him in order to pretend to be him, their friendship grows deeper, and as Aster and Paul begin to see more of each other, so do Aster and Ellie. Suddenly, Ellie finds herself in what has to be the world’s most complicated love triangle.
While I wasn’t familiar with Leah Lewis, it looks like she’s had roles on the Charmed reboot and the new Nancy Drew TV series. Leah is a really talented actress, and she plays Ellie with this quiet grace and strength. Her performance really elevated this movie from “typical teen drama” to something a little heavier. Not only was Ellie dealing with being closeted in a small, uber-religious town, she also felt the brunt of her town’s casual racism and the responsibility of helping her immigrant father adapt to life in small town America.
Daniel is perfectly cast as sweet, unthreatening jock Paul. His character is liked but not popular, he has a heart of gold but can be a bit of a dunce. He knows he needs Ellie’s help but doesn’t think through the consequences. Daniel hasn’t been in anything else I’m familiar with but I bet we’ll see more of him in the future.
Alexxis (that name!) plays the pastor’s daughter, Aster. She’s not exactly popular, despite having a popular boyfriend. But she is distractingly pretty, which makes people want to like her (she has a great monologue about this, by the way). Alexxis plays this part with so much depth and complexity, it’s clear this gal is more than just a pretty face. I have a feeling she will be the Next Big Thing right alongside Leah Lewis. You understood why their characters were drawn to each other, even if they came from different backgrounds.
I chose this particular screenshot of Wolfgang because, if the name Trig Carson does not fully explain to you who this character is, the photo certainly will. Trig is the ultimate popular douche canoe and Aster’s boyfriend that she doesn’t seem to care much about. I don’t know much about Wolfgang other than the fact that his parents are famous interior designers with a line of furniture available exclusively at Walmart(TM). Also his name is Wolfgang so he was probably born to play this role.
Ellie’s father Edwin is played by Collin Chou, who you might recognize as Seraph from the Matrix movies, or if you’re a fan of martial arts films: all of them. This dude has a list of film credits alongside Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow and so many more. Here, he plays a Chinese immigrant who is struggling to find a job in his small town while raising his teenage daughter on his own.
At the beginning of the movie, Ellie’s closest friend is her English teacher Mrs. Geselschap, played by Becky Ann Baker, who has had roles on Freaks and Geeks, Girls and lots of other shows and movies. But she’s not a midwestern mom in this show. She’s the Woody Harrelson-from-Edge-of-Seventeen character. The Thomas-Hayden-Church-from-Easy-A character. You know! The jaded, wise-cracking English teacher with a borderline inappropriately close friendship with her smart student character.
Couch-Sharing Capability: High
There’s really something for everyone here. The Half of It contains a lot – a LOT – of classic teen movie tropes, but has the retro vibes of Freaks and Geeks or Lady Bird and the gravitas of movies like The Spectacular Now.
Recommended Level of Inebriation: Low
Take a sip of your crisp sav blanc and appreciate the fact that you’re an adult who is hopefully past the extreme awkwardness of those figuring-it-out teen years. You can watch this and give yourself a pat on the back for how far you’ve come.
Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Good
I’ll admit, this isn’t a perfect film. There were a few consistency issues in the last part of the movie that had me scratching my head, and I kept comparing it to The Edge of Seventeen, which I thought was funnier. But The Half of It is a film that portrays the teen experience without talking down to teens, and tackled complex issues that so many closeted, POC teens deal with every day. While I can’t personally speak to how well it captured the closeted, POC teen experience, I’m glad that stories like this are being told in heartfelt, considerate ways. And this cast really knocks their performances out of the park.