The Half of It (2020)
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
When I saw that this was a teen romance film, I inwardly groaned. However, I will happily admit, that the groan was uncalled for; The Half of It has my full seal of approval.
This film starts with an animated sequence explaining Plato's soulmate theory. Essentially, it communicates the Greek myth that humans originally had four arms, four legs and two heads, but were divided in half by the Gods. This myth perpetuates the idea that for every individual, there is another soul who makes them complete. It's a nice way to start the film, and immediately foregrounds the prevalent themes.
We then meet Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a very clever high school senior, who is making money to support her family by writing essays for her class mates. She's an established businesswoman, so it's not entirely surprising when Paul (Daniel Diemer) approaches her to pen a love letter to the beautiful Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire) for him. At first Ellie turns Paul down, but later gives in, in order to pay the power bill. Of course, one letter turns into two, and two letters turn into ten. It isn't long before Ellie and Aster turn to devices to send the love notes, and while Aster still thinks she's talking to Paul, Ellie is steadily falling for Aster. Oh, and what's Paul doing? He's making sausages and being unspeakably awkward around Aster, whenever they have an in-person date.
One of the central themes in this film, is obviously love, but more importantly defining love. What is love? How do people love? I'm asking these questions explicitly, because the protagonists also ask these questions explicitly on multiple occasions. Each character defines, amends and redefines their own understanding of what love is throughout the movie. Peppered throughout The Half of It, are quotes on love by a variety of famous people; these signify the beginning of different chapters in the story. Ultimately at the beginning, Ellie doesn't have her own definition; she quotes others. By the end though, she does and it's not necessarily the same definition as everyone else. The film communicates to its audience that love may not be the same or mean the same thing to everyone, and that's okay.
The film also addresses peer pressure, and the teenage habit of copying one's peers. Aster is considered to be a popular student, and walks around with a number of girls who dress exactly the same. There is one scene where the four blondes wear the same scarf and offering Aster a fifth copy, and another where they are all observed donning double denim and pink tops. Aster doesn't want to conform, but feels trapped by the place in which she lives, and the societal expectations on her to be a good Christian girl and marry a good Christian boy. In fact, at one point, said boy proposes to her and her family appear to be happy about the fact that she could be engaged before she even graduates high school. It's kind of terrifying. The letters between Aster and Ellie, offer Aster a space to be herself, before she takes the leap to be herself in the open.
There are three things about this film, that I don't like:
There is a compulsory senior talent quest at one point. At the beginning, when Ellie steps onto the stage, she is heckled repeatedly by the other students. They make fun of her name (an ongoing source of bullying), and emit general disapproval for what she is doing. By the end of her song, she garners a standing ovation. This is nice, and fits the bill for "feel good", but I'm not sure it's the truest representation of teenagers.
At the beginning of the movie, we are told, "This is not a love story, or not one where anyone gets what they want". I loved the ending of this film. The film as a whole is beautiful. However, that one line that told me the ending at the start, I think prevented me from fully emotionally connecting with the characters and growing hopeful for them to have successful relationships. I knew what was to come...but I wish I didn't. I wanted to feel more at the end.
When the teacher finds out that Ellie is writing love letters, instead of focusing on writing assignments for six other members of the class, she says, "Is this why half my class is failing?" Erm...what? I'm not sure if this teacher has a really dry sense of humour, or is simply terrible at taking responsibility for the education of her students. I feel as though it's the latter, because early in the film, when she knows what Ellie is doing, she allows her to keep doing it. I guess this isn't a flaw on the part of the film as a whole...but it did really irritate me.
I really enjoyed The Half of It. It looked pretty, had a clear purpose and explored the lives of compelling characters. The messages it sent are necessary and important. They are messages that everyone needs to hear, but are particularly pertinent for any young adult who doesn't feel like they quite belong. Finally, I love the fact that it is rated PG. This is a film that is made for teenagers, and can be viewed by teenagers. Recently, I have seen so many "teen films" that are filled to the brim with so much swearing and "mature themes", that their rating only allows them to be viewed by adults...which kind of defeats the whole purpose.
If you are into teen films, LGBT films, romance, or even a bit of comedy. Give this one a watch. It's really sweet and it will certainly make you feel good.