Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Half of It


Writer, director and producer Alice Wu’s sweetly melancholic love-triangle (or square) tale is a contemporary rethink of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac, with an LGBTQI spin and no big noses.

All set to play the film festival circuit earlier this year before they were all cancelled due to you-know-what (see also A Secret Love), this instead wound up on Netflix, where its character-driven charms have already been celebrated by many.

Shy and bookish teen Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a straight-A student in the fictional small town of Squahamish, where she makes a little cash penning essays and term papers for the students who otherwise ignore her. She lives with her depressed Dad Edwin (Collin Chou), the local station master and signalman, and it’s eventually revealed that he has a PhD in engineering, but couldn’t get a better job and leave town, due to his limited English. Understated scenes where they watch classic movies like His Girl Friday and Casablanca together are most moving.

Ellie is approached by slightly dim football player Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), who’s in love with beautiful pastor’s daughter Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), although she’s in a slightly wearying relationship with wealthy jock Trig Carson (Wolfgang Novogratz). Paul wants Ellie to write letters for him to Aster, and it’s through this process and helping him secretly during some disastrous dates that Ellie fully realises that she, of course, loves Aster too. Which is hardly surprising, really.

Unlike the recent Love, Simon, in which the titular character struggled to find the right moment to ‘come out’, Lewis’ Ellie doesn’t properly understand that she’s gay and never quite assumed she had to come out of anything. And, in a diversion from the accepted Bergerac plot (also updated in pics like 1987 Steve Martin vehicle Roxanne), Paul is a more sympathetic, less cruel character than expected, and he naturally falls for Ellie himself, in the most awkward and human of fashions.

There’s much to enjoy in Wu’s second film as director (and her first in 16 years!), from the soundtrack that includes Nick Cave, Gordon Lightfoot and (gulp!) Chicago, to the glimmers of film buff-ery, to ‘Easter Eggs’ like having Ellie’s late Mom appear in a photograph which actually depicts the great Joan Chen, star of director Wu’s first film Saving Face. It also doesn’t beat you about the head with weighty themes, allowing issues surrounding race, the American migrant experience and Bible-bashing homophobia to simmer quietly in the background.

Yes, love hurts – and that’s only the half of it.

Reviewer Rating

The Half of It (M) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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