The Half of It (2020) Review

★★★½

As much as I push for movies with LGBT themes that aren’t hardcore dramas where it ends with someone dying or some other tragic event, I have to admit that I haven’t much been impressed by the romantic comedies that I’ve seen featuring LGBT main characters. Love Simon felt a little bit too cliched and pompous, and I mostly liked Booksmart though I didn’t think it was exceptionally substantive. So though I wanted to enjoy it, I had to set my expectations for The Half of It pretty low concerning my history with the subgenre. I didn’t go into it wanting to dislike it, which is something I never try to do, but part of me was worried that I would be more mixed on it. This was only further harmed by how pretentious and quirky I thought the opening credits were. Was this doomed to be another Juno, or something like that?

After a bit of worry, my expectations were promptly shot out of the water, with The Half of It being genuinely great from that moment on. I recently claimed that I’m not much of a fan of coming of age comedies, and I made a list of some exceptions to the rule, but I imagine I should have waited a bit in order to catch this, because at the very least this would have been a runner up. I’m not sure how high this would have ranked, judging by my score I imagine it wouldn’t have necessarily cracked my top ten, but I can almost guarantee it would at the very least be an honorable mention.

I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t have some issues with it, though. They mostly pertain to the reasons why I usually don’t like coming of age comedies, even though this movie rarely succumbs to those pitfalls. It is a little bit pretentious, and I can’t say I love the fact that it follows most of the same coming of age beats that I’ve grown to have a general disdain for, but so much of this film subverted my expectations so exponentially that it’s easy to forgive the moments that it goes for the cliches. Consider how texts and notifications appear on the screen, which is apparently a thing creators of teenage films attempt to go for. I should be very tired of it by the time The Half of It tries its hand, but I’m ultimately just not. I care way too much about this film to care too deeply about that, even if it may have affected my score.

Leah Lewis plays Ellie, a closeted Chinese teenager living in a small, religious city, who reluctantly decides to help a school jock try to get the girl he’s after by writing letters and texts for him. This is made increasingly difficult when Ellie realizes that she is attracted to the girl as well, and several of her friendships are strained once the secret becomes more known. This seems like an average coming of age comedy story, and I suppose it is, but I think that’s part of what makes the movie so great. It’s an LGBT story that’s not a hardcore drama or tragedy, and it’s not necessarily about being outed or anything the cast and crew of usual LGBT movies think that that group wants to see.

The director, Alice Wu, is gay. I essentially figured that out without having to search it, but of course I did look it up just to make sure. I didn’t want to be uneducated in my reviews, of course. But one can just tell based on the movie The Half of It turned out to be as opposed to things like Love Simon. It’s like the objective difference between the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and the Elton John biopic Rocketman. You can absolutely tell which is made by which type of person. I’m not saying straight people can’t make good movies about gay people, but there’s certainly a different vibe that one can pick up on.

The humor and direction in The Half of It is…dry, to be sure. That’s another thing I tend not to like about movies like this. The drier the humor is for me, the more likely it is that I’ll interpret it as meanspirited and ugly. I suppose this just speaks to the talent of Wu, but almost every joke present in The Half of It lands wonderfully for me. It’s dry enough that I can claim that it’s essentially how real teenagers talk, but it’s also genuinely funny enough that I don’t find myself irritated by the characters. That’s something very rare for the average coming of age comedy; I genuinely like each and every character here. There’s so much love put into this film, and it helps me reflect back the same exact amount of love.

Considering my expectations for this film, The Half of It absolutely blew me away, and I hope to God that people make the choice to check it out. It’s not too much in any category; it’s not too dry, it’s not too light, it’s not too comedic and it’s not too dramatic. As should be true with any great movie, everything about The Half of It is just right. It’s absurdly satisfying, at least for me, and maybe that’s partly because it’s written and directed by someone who knows exactly what she’s talking about. This absolutely gets a recommendation from me.

The Half of It can be streamed on Netflix.

It is rated PG-13 by the MPAA, for brief language and teen drinking.

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