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The Half of It is an LGBTQ Coming-of-Age Story dramedy written and directed by Alice Wu (Saving Face). Ellie Chu is a shy, straight A student who feels isolated and friendless as she grows up in the small town of Squahamish. On top of excelling in her studies, she makes money by writing essays for her classmates. However, one of the jocks named Paul Munsky seeks out her help for an unusual assignment: Write love letters to Aster Flores, the girl he secretly has a crush on. But after meeting Aster herself, Ellie realizes she also has a crush on her. Needless to say, this love and friendship triangle is a more complicated task than Ellie bargained for.

The film was released on Netflix on May 1, 2020. The trailer can be found here.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Aster slaps Paul across the face (in front of everyone in church, mind you) after Ellie reveals that she was the one who wrote and texted her this whole time.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Ellie is introverted, has excellent grades, wears huge glasses, plays the guitar, piano and organ, and writes essays as a side hustle.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ellie describes what there is to love about Aster, and gets a deer-in-the-headlights look, thinking the game's up, when Paul begins to berate himself for being an idiot. He's just upset that someone who "doesn't even care" can come up with all that while he, who loves Aster, can't say anything good.
  • Beauty Inversion: In real life, Leah Lewis is a super-fit exercise enthusiast. While not ugly by any means, Ellie is not nearly so glamorous as her actress, her looks buried in plain ensembles and a geeky demeanor.
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  • Big Damn Kiss: Ellie and Aster share one in the end.
  • Big "NO!": Ellie lets one out when Trig announces to the entire congregation that he plans on marrying Aster.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: When Paul brings Ellie home to his family for pot roast, they're all screaming at each other across the table. To spare her the uncomfortable dinner, Paul just opts to eat at her house instead.
  • Black Market: At $10 for 3 pages, Ellie's secret essay writing business is pretty profitable.
  • Blatant Lies: When Ellie sees how hopelessly awkward Paul is during his date with Aster, she texts her while pretending to be Paul. When Aster asks him if he texted her, he nervously says yes. And then discreetly pulls his phone off the table into his lap.
  • Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Ellie tries to play table tennis with Paul as a way to explain to him that "conversations are like ping pong." He just smacks the ball back at her before she gets the chance to finish the explanation. He gets better, though.
  • Coming-Out Story: Paul realizes Ellie is a lesbian and attracted to his love interest. He's initially slightly hostile, saying Ellie's going to Hell, but later on accepts things. Ellie never explicitly comes out, though she makes things plain to Aster by kissing her. Aster didn't mind, from her reaction.
  • Comforting Comforter: When Ellie gets drunk, vomits, and passes out at the Wild Teen Party, Paul brings her to his home and tucks her in in his own bed.
  • Cool Teacher: Ellie's English teacher knows that she's writing essays for other students as a side-hustle, but doesn't turn her in...because otherwise, she'd have to read what they actually wrote.
  • Cute Bookworm: Ellie certainly qualifies, but given the nature of her side hustle, she's more savvy than she looks.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: In the end, neither Paul nor Ellie end up getting with Aster, though Ellie does manage to share a kiss with her before she leaves town, and there's a promise of a future reunion between the two.
  • Dumb Jock: Downplayed. Paul is less book smart than Ellie, and inexperienced and out of his depth when it comes to talking to Aster, but he's not a complete idiot.
  • Family Business: The Munsky's sausage-making business. They've been making the same sausages for 49 years. Also why Paul prefers to stay in Squahamish, because he feels duty-bound to help keep it running.
  • Femininity Failure: Downplayed. When shopping for the senior recital, Ellie tries to piece together a formal outfit to which Paul says she doesn't look like herself "all girled up." He helps her out, as he has a sister.
  • Friendless Background: Ellie. When Paul says that they should hang out, she's confused by what that even entails.
  • Funny Background Event: One of the related articles on Paul's websearch says "How to bring your cat back from the dead".
  • Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: A female version of this: nerdy lesbian seeks popular girl. In an interesting twist, the male jock befriends the nerdy lesbian after enlisting her help because he also seeks the same popular girl.
  • Girl Posse: Aster reluctantly ends up being part of one filled with similar blonde girls.
  • Held Gaze: Ellie catches Aster staring into her eyes via the bathroom mirror reflection.
  • High School: The story revolves around teenagers in their senior year.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Ellie says she doesn't believe in God when talking to Aster while swimming. Aster asks what it's like, and Ellie says she feels lonely. However, aside from this Aster (the only person we see who knows about this in their very religious town) doesn't care, just saying she hopes that Ellie finds things to believe.
  • Immigrant Parents: Ellie's father is an immigrant from China. Because he has an engineering PhD, the plan was initially to use Squahamish as a jumping-off point to move somewhere he can make use of his doctorate. However, he doesn't speak English very well and is also out of place in Squahamish, and is thus lonely and unhappy there.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Ellie doesn't have many friends due to her introverted nature, and only really interacts with her classmates to make money via her essay writing business. Also with Aster, who’s mentioned to be smart, and doesn’t quite fit in with the superficial Girl Posse that invites her into their group.
  • In with the In Crowd: After Ellie's performance at the school's talent show, she gains a lot of newfound respect from her classmates.
  • Jerk Jock: Trig is a mild version. His most overt bullying is always calling Ellie "Choo-Choo". He's also just a general douche.
  • Lovable Jock: Paul isn't the brightest guy and is essentially Ellie's romantic rival, but he's kind and defends her from bullies, and ends up as her one true friend.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: How the whole Love Triangle starts. Paul hires Ellie to write love letters to Aster, the girl she also has a crush on.
  • Maybe Ever After: Ellie and Aster don't formally get together at the end, as Ellie is leaving for college. However, after they kiss Ellie promises to "see you again in a few years" and Aster seems open to the possibility.
  • Meet Cute: Ellie and Aster meet when Trig bumps into Ellie in the hallway and sends her papers scattering, and Aster helps her pick them up.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Ellie’s father asked if she and Paul broke up, to which he clarified that they weren’t ever together.
  • Missing Mom: Ellie's mother passed away when she was 13.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Upon discovering that Ellie likes Aster too, Paul searches "How do you know if you're gay" on Google to get some answers. When his mother finds this on his computer, she makes the obvious assumption. She later tells him at church that she still loves him regardless of his sexuality, only for him to confirm that he is, in fact, not gay.
  • Non-Nude Bathing: When Aster invites Ellie into her secret hot spring (completely unaware of Ellie's crush on her), Ellie is so reluctant to strip in front of her that she goes in wearing full body underwear. Several layers of it.
  • The Not-Love Interest: In any other teen movie, you'd expect Paul and Ellie to fall for each other while she’s helping him write letters. However, she has a crush on Aster.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ellie's reaction when she thinks Paul realizes she has a crush on Aster. Both she and Paul had a more subtle reaction when Aster wrote that she thinks 'Paul' is writing to her because she's a pretty girl. Exactly what Ellie has been trying her best to avoid.
  • Odd Friendship: Ellie and Paul. Ellie is a shy, introverted academic overachiever. Paul is a popular jock. But they've both never left Squahamish, are genuinely nice people, and have crushes on the same girl.
  • Overprotective Dad: Aster's father is a priest, and therefore very strict. Ellie's father also sprays Trig with a kitchen hose when he tries to hit on his daughter.
  • The Pastor's Queer Kid: Aster, the pastor's daughter, is expected to marry Trig, a handsome but vain man admired by the congregation. However, she is secretly in a romance with Paul, or rather Paul's friend Ellie pretending to be Paul in texts. While Aster initially assumes she's in an affair with another guy, it's hinted that she starts to figure out that she's actually involved with a girl, particularly when she seems to flirt with Ellie in person. At the end of the film she denies being gay, but Ellie kisses her and Aster appears to reconsider and enjoy it.
  • Playing Cyrano: Ellie to Paul, in a modern American high school with a lesbian Cyrano. This is how Ellie gets into the situation in the first place, and realizes she has a crush on who she's writing to.
  • Race for Your Love: While watching Ek Villain, Paul is touched by seeing the hero pursue his love interest as she rides off in a train, while Ellie thinks that's stupid. At the end of the film, Paul chases Ellie's train playfully and she finds it tearfully amusing after all.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ellie's English teacher is willing to let her write other students' essays, but she doesn't appreciate Ellie blowing off applying to a proper university to write letters to Aster.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Even though Paul has shown zero interest in religion before said scene, he forces out an "You're going to Hell" when he figures out Ellie's sexuality.
  • Senior Year Struggles: Senior Ellie wants to escape her small town and go to college for Iowa, which is complicated by her burgeoning feelings for Aster and the possibility of leaving her lonely immigrant father by himself.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: At the hot spring, Aster seemingly has zero qualms about taking off all her clothes in front of a girl she's only really spoken to twice.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Ellie is the only Asian American girl in her school, so she is tiny compared to everyone else. Fittingly, she's also Asian and Nerdy.
  • Small Town Boredom: Ellie expresses that she hates being stuck in Squahamish. In the end, she leaves for Iowa for college.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Ellie wears a huge pair of them.
  • That Came Out Wrong: During Paul and Aster's first date, Aster gifts Paul a signed copy of The Remains of the Day. Paul, in an attempt to seem well-read, blurts out "I love...Nazis. Not those Nazis. The ones in the book."
  • Train Station Good Bye: Ellie makes fun of this trope when it shows up in a movie her and Paul watch, but Paul likes it. He eventually plays it out straight when Ellie leaves for college and Paul runs after the train.
  • Tomboyish Ponytail: Ellie, who’s less feminine than the girls that wear their hair loose.
  • Triang Relations: Ellie and Paul both have a crush on Aster (who's dating Trig); meanwhile Paul begins to fall for Ellie as well.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Ellie is a lesbian and Chinese American, and feels very othered in the conservative Squahamish.
  • Wild Teen Party: Ellie and Paul attend one after the school's talent contest.
  • Wise Beyond Her Years: Ellie at the tender age of 13 took up her father's job at the railway crossing after her mother died and her father fell into depression.
  • Uptown Girl: Gender-inverted with Aster and Trig. Trig’s family is stated to own half of Squahamish while Aster’s barely own more than their house.
  • Worthless Foreign Degree: Ellie's father has a doctorate in engineering from China, but because he can't speak English very well, he's stuck with a station manager job in a small American town.
  • Writer's Block: Upon running into writer's block when trying to write the first draft for this movie, Alice Wu blackmailed herself by writing a check for the NRA (a organization she does not support) and threatening to mail it to them if her script wasn't finished within five weeks.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Paul seems to think he's in a romantic comedy where he chases the popular girl, and falls for the nerdy one instead. He's wrong. Ellie isn't only not into him, she's crushing hard on Aster herself.

Not every love story is a romance.
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