Thursday, May 7, 2020

Movie Review: THE HALF OF IT (2020)

Bookish introvert Ellie Chu is perfectly content with her life: watching old movies with her widowed father and ghostwriting papers for her high school classmates to help pay the bills. But her side gig turns personal when lovelorn jock Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) hires her to craft love notes to Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire) — a smart, popular girl out of both of their leagues… and Ellie’s own secret crush. Just as the duo’s plan begins to work, a new wrinkle emerges: Ellie and Paul have fallen into a deep friendship neither could have anticipated, giving rise to a surprising love triangle. THE HALF OF IT is a heartfelt comedy-of-errors about searching for perfect love — and finding yourself in the process.

Directed by: Alice Wu

Written by: Alice Wu

Starring: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Collin Chou, Becky Ann Baker, Catherine Curtin, Enrique Murciano, Wolfgang Novogratz

Love is messy and horrible and selfish… and bold. This is a line that perfectly describes the most difficult emotion to grasp at times, and it perfectly encapsulates the message this film is trying to convey. Whereas most teen rom-coms follow the path of least resistance, The Half Of It prides itself on taking the road less traveled.

Alice Wu crafted a beautiful story about learning what love means to different individuals, and that it’s never as easy as it seems. This isn’t your typical love story. It’s far more than that. It’s a character study on a, at times, naive generation who is stubborn, yet determined when it comes to the things they want, feel, and need. Wu does an incredible job at displaying the idea that there’s no right or wrong way to love; sometimes it’s about the effort, sometimes it’s about more.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to view this film early, and if not given that chance, I’m not sure I would have gone out of my way to watch it once it hit Netflix. There’s no one in the cast that I recognize, and it’s of a genre that is typically hit or miss with me. But I am so glad I did, because this was a stellar piece of filmmaking. Wu’s storytelling ability is top notch, as she was able to bring together all the best elements of these types of films into a cohesive, engaging experience.

This unique twist on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac story begins with Ellie, a loner who writes papers for her fellow classmates for money. But, when she reluctantly agrees to rewrite a love letter for someone, things get a little... complicated.  Alice Wu managed to bring in a sense of modernity in so many different aspects. From the use of text messaging to having a lesbian Asian lead, she's taken a story done so many times and given it the shot it needed to be relevant today.

Now, right away I knew this story was headed down the route of Cyrano de Bergerac, yet I was intrigued as to how it would be done. The tone, right off the bat, felt unlike most teen rom-coms I’ve seen as of late, especially those recently released on Netflix. This had a much more indie film vibe to it, and that is one of my favorite things about it. All too often, these films feel far too glossy and sappy, or just flat out cheesy, but not this one. It still follows the classic tropes of the genre, but doesn’t beat you over the head with them.

We also get some great performances from this unknown cast. Leah Lewis and Daniel Diemer shine here, as the straight-A introvert and the not-so book smart jock, respectively, but they’re so much more than just that. Leah Lewis’ Ellie Chu comes off as very stand-offish, a definite loner, which she is, but it’s not just an awkward personality that makes her that way. Her family life is a huge factor behind why she acts that way. And pairing her with Daniel Diemer’s Paul Munsky was a perfect decision here, as their chemistry instantly clicks, making the movie.

Overall, this is a film that people really need to check out, even if it’s not their usual pick. It’s a simple story, but it’s done so well with some great performances by this young cast. So thank you Netflix, you’ve done it again!

The Merc’s Score: 8/10

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