Netflix’s new film The Half of It might just have mastered the perfect balance between the rom com formula and a new take on the genre. Spoilers ahead!
Having watched the trailer before The Half of It was released, I noticed what many of us did: yet another movie about teenage angst with a jock, the nerd, and the pretty girl. Yawn.
Yet the plot seemed slightly different to the usual – the nerd, Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), secretly wants the pretty girl, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), who the jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) also wants. So, I thought I’d give it a go on another quarantine movie night, and I’m glad I did.
Some clichés are inescapable – this is a romantic comedy after all. But this film does it in a tolerable and loveable way as new angles are incorporated into the stereotypes we’re so used to seeing. Firstly, the ‘jock’ isn’t a total idiot – Paul Munsky isn’t the hugely popular, player type of athlete we’re used to seeing on our screens. Although an athlete, Paul combats many of the jock characteristics we expect to see (but are seen in Aster’s boyfriend, Trig). Although Paul is clueless and not the brightest when it comes to articulating himself, he is sweet and cares for Ellie, even helping her dad and showing genuine interest in her as a person and a friend.
One of the most notable features of the plot was Ellie Chu herself. Unfortunately, having an Asian female lead is something that hasn’t been common in the film industry until recent years, and it’s amazing that we’re seeing it more and more. Not only this, but the film incorporates Mandarin and the struggles Ellie’s dad faced to
get a job due to his difficulties with English, despite his qualifications.
Another great thing about the film’s representation was having the main character be lesbian. This is highly uncommon in films, especially in romantic comedies, where typically the gay characters are side pieces to the plot line and are typically never fully developed. Stereotypically, the gay characters tend to be defined by their
sexuality – like the camp, extravagant gay best friend who isn’t developed beyond their sexuality. But Ellie’s character combats that – she is the main character who happens to be a lesbian. She doesn’t ignore her sexuality as part of who she is, but has other developed qualities (exactly what should be normalised in all films). She is a good friend and daughter, and a deep thinker, pondering on concepts like love throughout the film.
The theme of religion was also incorporated into the plot in a really thoughtful way. The Half of It is set in a small town, Squahamish, where religion is prevalent in most people’s lives: Ellie plays the sermons, Paul and his family are deeply religious, and Aster also attends church. It is suggested in the film her family are also in the church. Ellie reveals she doesn’t believe in God in a conversation with Aster, despite being surrounded in a God-loving community.
Paul’s reaction to realising Ellie is gay is, although it shocked me, important. While they’re friends and you’d expect (and hope) that Paul accepts Ellie for who she is, it seems realistic that he doesn’t totally disregard both his shock at the truth (and slight betrayal that she’s secretly been in love with Aster this whole time) and his religious framework he’s had and believed in his whole life.
So as much as I was disappointed and saddened by it, I understand why the filmmakers included the line “you’re going to hell”. It makes Paul’s character development all the more beautiful to watch as he discusses that there is more than one way to love, and how hard it must be to not be able to truly be yourself in the church scene. He accepts and loves Ellie for whoever she wants to love – it never should get in the way, and he sees it now whilst still accepting his religious faith.
Ellie revealing she doesn’t believe in God takes place in one of the most notable (and personal favourite) scenes of the film: the hot spring scene. Although we’ve seen pools and jacuzzis as staples of the rom com genre for imitators of intimacy and turning points like in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, this one is different. It’s an intimate, yet not sexualised, conversation between Aster and Ellie.
This scene is my favourite for many reasons. It is beautifully shot, using close-ups to convey the vulnerability of the characters as they talk. It’s in a serene location, and doesn’t focus on Aster’s toplessness with long lingering shots of her getting in the hot spring, as so many films love to do. Instead, there is an unspoken understanding and respect between both the characters, reflected into the audience and into the camerawork respectively.
Instead, the scene allows for Aster’s character to develop beyond just being a love interest. She too faces her own difficulties and challenges as she feels no one truly knows her beyond her exterior, and is dating a boy she doesn’t truly love but is rich, whereas her strict family are not. The conversation feels real and vulnerable, whilst being picturesque and beautifully shot.
One of the things I noticed the most about the film was the way Ellie and Aster’s relationship is presented. Looking at the hot spring scene as an example, it’s almost as if an active effort is made to not sexualise the two girls. In mainstream culture, lesbians are often sexualised and fetishised, instead of normalising them like any other couple. The only act of physical intimacy between the two is a kiss right at the end – there are other ways for them to be intimate which is important to their relationship and bond, and the film depicts that without over sexualising the two girls.
It is these kinds of bonds between all the characters that binds the wholesomeness of the film. Aster and Ellie’s bond and understanding of each other, Paul and Ellie’s friendship and determination to help one another achieve their goals, Ellie and her dad – even Paul and Ellie’s Dad. They all form a bond, and through these bonds contemplate what love means to them (also explored in hot spring scene). This meaning reflects not only who they are as individuals, but how this filters into their relationships. These wholesome and strong bonds reflect the morals of the film.
The ending, even if it’s not the cliché we expect, is perfect for the film. Aster and Ellie have their final conversation, where Ellie apologises for lying and the two start to bond again. They kiss here, rather than in the typical hot tub scene. The question of the two as a couple arises – just the way it should be as the two go off in their different directions to study, and figure out who they are. Ellie accepts that she needs to go on and be her own person, instead of being scared to leave her father and live a life without him.
The film was executed brilliantly, in its plot, casting, cinematography, and character development. The word that sprung to mind once it finished was wholesome – everything about it was beautiful and uplifting. I finished the film feeling happy and light: the perfect feel good movie in times like these.
Watch the trailer for The Half Of It below: