Movie Review: The Half of It (2020)

TL;DR – a teenage version of Cyrano de Bergerac or Roxanne without the big noses.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Both Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne (both based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play) revolves around a male character (with a large nose) who is in love with a female character. He’s good with words and poetry but does not profess his love to the female because he considers himself physically unattractive. Enter a second male character (who doesn’t have a large nose and is considered physically attractive) who also has a crush on the same female character but is incapable of stringing two sentences together when speaking to her. First male helps second male by telling him what to say… comedy and drama ensues.

Now take the above and do the following:

– Make the male character (that’s good with words) be female (that’s good with words & has a normal nose).
– Turn them all into teenagers.
– Add all the joys and challenges that comes with being a teenager.

Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is the introverted and dutiful daughter who makes some extra money on the side by writing papers for other students so they can get good grades. She is the ‘Cyrano’ in the film but without any attempt to make her look like Pinocchio. In fact any attempt to make her like a character with self-esteem issues when it comes to her physical appearance is thrown out the window; I don’t care how much they try to make her look like a nerd with Harry Potter type glasses who is obsessed with drinking Yakult, you know she’s pretty underneath.

Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) is a football player that is a little slow and has a major crush on Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). Knowing Ellie helps other students with papers, he seeks her services in writing a love letter to Aster. The scenes where he chases after her on foot while she’s riding her bicycle home are genuine, funny and touching.

Additional tweaks to this story give it a fresh feel. For one, Ellie doesn’t have a crush on Aster, she doesn’t even know she’s attracted to her until they start communicating through letters and texts. The light dawning on Ellie that Aster isn’t just a pretty face, has her own inner struggles and dreams, and a depth of personality that draws them toward each other. Problem is that Aster thinks its Paul Munsky doing all the writing.

The second tweak is that Aster has an existing boyfriend, Trig Carson (Wolfgang Novogatz), who has his whole life mapped out with Aster (much to her dismay). His confidence and surety of what their lives will be like (i.e. they get married, have a family etc.) is a clear red flag for Aster who battles internally with the fear of being alone versus following her own dreams.

The last tweak is Ellie’s father, Edwin (Collin Chou), who works as a station master, or rather he did until his wife passed away and now Ellie picks up the slack and feels like she can never leave to live her own life because it would mean her dad would be alone.

There’s also the modern day splash of religious beliefs thrown in about homosexuality. So, there’s plenty to watch and follow in this engaging, more than a few times funny, poignant film about what is at its heart, two girls trying to discover their own identity and in the process identifying an attraction to each other. In truth, while it may start off as a Cyrano de Bergerac, it ends squarely as its own story, transforming into something else that has nothing to do with unrequited love but everything to do with living one’s own life to the fullest.

The scene where Ellie and Aster talk at the hot spring is beautifully done. A moment that captures their hopes and fears, sharing their loneliness, and desiring to be understood.

The Half of It is fabulous film by director Alice Wu, so grab a Yakult with your popcorn and enjoy.

8.5 out of 10

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