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Film / The Half of It

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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 (Leah Lewis) 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.

This film provides examples of:

  • 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: After Ellie describes what there is to love about Aster, Paul begins to berate himself for being an idiot. Ellie gets a deer-in-the-headlights look, thinking the game's up, but Paul's just upset that someone who "doesn't even care" can come up with all that while he can't say anything good, despite being the one who's in love with her.
  • 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.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Ellie and Aster at 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, they eat at her house instead.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: Ellie and Paul both have a crush on Aster (who's dating Trig); meanwhile Paul begins to fall for Ellie as well.
  • 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 incredulously if he's texting her from across the table, he nervously says yes, 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 eventually.
  • Champions on the Inside: The entire school celebrates Paul's single touchdown with over-the-top enthusiasm, because their terrible team hasn't scored a single point in fifteen years. He gets a banner with his face on it next to the slogan "WE'RE ON THE BOARD!"
  • Coming-Out Story: Paul realizes Ellie is a lesbian and attracted to his love interest, although it's unclear whether Ellie knew this about herself before the events of the film. He's initially slightly hostile, saying Ellie's going to Hell, but later on accepts it. Ellie never explicitly comes out, but she does acknowledge to Aster that she was responsible for the texts from "Paul", and kisses Aster before leaving for college. Aster's reaction is ambiguous, but she's at least smiling afterwards.
  • Comforting Comforter: Ellie to her father, symbolizing his despondency and her caring for him. Later when Ellie gets wasted 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. She also pushes Ellie to dream bigger for herself, without being too pushy or judgemental.
  • 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, with Aster's reaction left ambiguous.
  • Dumb Jock: Downplayed. Paul is less book smart than Ellie inarticulate, and out of his depth 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.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The opening narration warns the viewers expecting a traditional love story that in this story "nobody gets what they want".
  • Friendless Background: Ellie. When Paul talks about wanting to "hang out," she's confused by what that even entails.
  • Funny Background Event: One of the related articles on Paul's web search says "How to bring your cat back from the dead".
  • Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: A female version: 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: Averted. 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. Despite being (apparently) religious in a very religious town, Aster just says she hopes that Ellie finds things to believe in.
  • 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.
  • Love Confession: A version occurs in the church when Trig announces his plans to marry Aster. Ellie reveals to Aster that she was the one writing the love letters (and implicitly that the feelings in them were sincerely Ellie's).
  • 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 at least flattered, if not 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 has realized 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 book-dumb jock. But they've both never left Squahamish, are genuinely nice people, and have crushes on the same girl.
  • The Pastor's Queer Kid: Possibly. 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 her reaction, while ambiguous, is definitely positive.
  • 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 lets 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.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: At the church when Trig announces his plans to marry Aster, Paul and Ellie both object with speeches about love.
  • 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."
  • The Four Loves: The movie explores aspects of those types of love:
    • The Familiar love is explored in seeing how Ellie, Paul and Aster all relate to their family, how their family talk to each other and how/if they support each other.
    • The Friendships between Ellie and Paul, Paul and Ellie's dad, and Paul and Aster are explored several times, becoming deeper and deeper as the story goes on, learning more and more from eachother as they spend more and more time with each other.
    • The Romance might be the most obvious, this being a romantic coming of age story.
    • the Unconditional Love is described by Ellie's father as a question "have you ever loved someone so much you want nothing about her to change?".
  • 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.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Ellie is a lesbian and Chinese American, and feels very othered in the conservative Squahamish.
  • 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.
  • Wild Teen Party: Ellie and Paul attend one after the school's talent contest.
  • Wise Beyond Her Years: Ellie took up her father's job at the railway crossing at the age of 13 after her mother died and her father fell into depression.
  • 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. It doesn't help that he's still so crushed by the death of his wife that at the start of the film he barely leaves his recliner.
  • 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.