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Review: 'The Half Of It' Is The Real Deal

Let me cut to the chase and say The Half of It is a delightful little movie that you should check out on NETFLIX, ASAP.

If you like, you can stop reading right now and just go and watch the movie. I won’t be offended.

But if you want to know more about why I liked this movie so much, read on. I’ll try to keep it short.

For starters, The Half of It has already begun to gain some well-deserved attention and hype by winning the award for the Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.

That’s pretty prestigious.

The story is an updated take on the Cyrano de Bergerac story.

It’s been adapted before, notably in Steve Martin’s film Roxanne (1987).

In this case, it is a complicated high school romance in which a football player named Paul needs some help drafting a letter to the object of his affection, an attractive girl named Aster.

Enter Ellie, a bright young Asian classmate who has made a cottage industry out of writing assigned projects for her friends, for a fee.

She’s good at what she does and guarantees that “if it doesn’t get an A, you don’t pay.”

She’s not boastful. Just smart and self-confident.

While her services don’t normally include the writing of love letters, she agrees to write one, just one, for $50 in order to pay one of her dad’s overdue utility bills.

She is the only daughter of a widower struggling to find suitable employment.

It’s a loving relationship that includes a mutual enjoyment of classic movies, like Casablanca (1942) and Wings of Desire (1987).

Without giving away too much, you probably know what comes next.

Ellie is begged to write additional letters and send text messages on behalf of the jock, and in the process begins to develop a secret relationship and affection for his would-be girlfriend.

As Ellie discovers, life can sometimes become messy. And unpredictable. And complicated.

And that’s what makes The Half of It worth watching.

It’s a great story.

And great stories can be told again and again, as evidenced by the numerous remakes of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women over the years.

The shining star of this movie is Leah Lewis who wins you over five minutes after we are introduced to her.

Her character is bright, talented, energetic, ambitious, loving, caring and totally lacking when it comes to an understanding of love or the nuances of high school dating.

She has a sweet face, but it’s not the face that breaks the boys’ hearts.

You, the viewer, on the other hand, find yourself falling in love with Ellie and her innocence, earnestness and vulnerability.

And you want things to work out for her somehow.

The Half of It is the brainchild of Alice Wu who wrote it and directed it.

Remarkably, this is only her second feature film.

Her first was Saving Face, starring Joan Chen back in 2004.

I can’t say enough about Alice Wu’s exceptional talent except to say that I hope that we will see more of her work based on her noteworthy success here.

There is a maturity and self-confidence in her work that is tangible.

Every shot counts. Every scene is under control.

In fairness, there was one scene at a church service near the end of the film that seemed to overshoot the comedy level that had been established earlier.

It frankly seemed a little over-the-top and noticeably inconsistent in tone, but this is a minor point. It still manages to work.

Character development and chemistry are critical elements in all movies, but particularly important in little low-budget projects like this.

You have to really like these characters and genuinely care what happens to them.

Wu makes that happen.

As mentioned, this is an updated telling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story with modifications to fit the times and the current cultural context.

To its credit, The Half of It does all that and caps it off with an ending that feels just right.

Not too little.

Not too much.

In the end, this is a movie that lives up to the critical accolades and PR hype.

It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen on NETFLIX recently.

One that you definitely shouldn’t miss.

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