by Philip Price
Director: Alice Wu
Starring: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer & Collin Chou
Runtime: 1 hour & 44 minutes
My wife, a teacher, always complains about the inaccuracies of high school depictions in movies and in this one we're barely six minutes in when the bell rings and an English teacher announces an assignment of 500 words on Sartre's use of "thwarted desire" to be due the following Monday. She announces this as half the class is out the door already and the other half aren't listening as they gather their things. "She could never hold any of them accountable for that," my wife comments, "not a single one of them are paying attention to her."
In this "love story where no one gets what they want" there are several trite aspects taken from any number of teen rom-coms you've seen before, but the core relationship that develops between our protagonist Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) and her new-found friend Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) is an arc so naturally curated and performed that it's not hard to find the appeal of their relationship in their given circumstances even if it all takes place in the weirdest, most out of touch and geographically confusing Pacific Northwest town. While largely a straightforward love triangle narrative “The Half of It” features some of the weirdest tertiary choices in recent movie memory that are legitimately confusing when trying to make sense of them in the context of everything else going on.
For example, I've never heard of a mandatory senior talent show. That's weird, right? Like, that would last at least 16 hours and on top of that, the actual talent show scene here is ridiculous. What prom king dildo is performing Berlin while dressed like Springsteen and how is an entire class of seniors in, let's say 2018 (meaning these kids were born in 2000), singing along to "Masquerade" (a song released in 1982) like it's nothing? On top of top of that, did jock boy Trig (Wolfgang Novogratz) provide everyone in the audience glow sticks prior to his performance or...? That's just the tip of the iceberg in The Half of It though, as apparently there are so few people that leave the fictional town of Squahamish that the daughter of a preacher (man, the young hotshot from Without a Trace got old) would feel compelled to marry the aforementioned golden boy jock at the end of their senior year of HIGH SCHOOL for lack of other options! I mean, that's weird, right? Like, I understand this is an adaptation of a play written in 1897 and there are probably some marriage proposals to distant cousins or something in the play, but c'mon...if you're going to adapt it to tell the story of a queer Chinese-American teenager living in small town, America then just worry about making the themes and ideas that made you want to adapt it in the first place translate and drop the extraneous complications that have little to no impact on the story.
It's a lot of musings and tends to go on for a half hour more than it should, but I like, or more appreciate, the concentration on writing and the truth it shows in not simply being able to express one’s self better in the written word than speaking face to face, but the difficulty in shaping the right words to accurately express not just the meaning you want the recipient to receive, but the aura you want them to perceive. And although it goes against all my natural instincts of being an introvert how Ellie comes to realize and give into the idea that talking to others allows just as much insight into yourself as it does them is pretty special. It's kind of a weird ass movie that doesn't always make sense or care to explain itself even when it needs to, but I liked Ellie's dad (Collin Chou) and the English teacher (Becky Ann Baker) enough, despite my wife's early differences with her, to come around on the movie. That's not exactly a wholehearted recommendation, but you could call it a halfhearted one.