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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

May 6, 2021



‘THE HALF OF IT’ is from another Asian-American filmmaker, Alice Wu. This is actually Wu’s second film as her first one, “Saving Face”, antedated Chloe Zhao’s Oscar-winning “Nomadland” and Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell”, which we have both reviewed here.

The story of “The Half of It” is loosely based on the play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand written in 1897. It was first filmed in 1950 starring Jose Ferrer, who became the first Hispanic-Puerto Rican actor to win the Oscar best actor award for his title role performance. 

This was later  also used by Steve Martin in a modern retelling of the story in “Roxanne”.  

Now, the Cyrano role is played by a teenage Chinese-American girl, Leah Lewis (“Charmed”, “Nancy Drew”), as the lead character, Ellie Chu. The story is set in the rural town of Squahamish. 

Ellie and her parents moved from Beijing to America when she was a little girl. 

Her mom has since died and her father, who has a Ph.D. in engineering, now just works for the local railroad station as signal man because he doesn’t speak English fluently. 

Ellie as the only Asian is an outcast in high school but she’s bright and smart. She earns extra money by writing the assigned term papers of her classmates. 

Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), a shy football player, asks Ellie to help him write a love letter for a beautiful Hispanic girl in their class, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), who’s the girlfriend of Trig (Wolfgang Novogratz), who comes from a rich family. 

Ellie writes a letter to Aster and Paul is very happy when she replies to him. Soon, she and Aster are also exchanging text messages, with Aster thinking it’s Paul who she’s corresponding with. 

Paul is not so bright and articulate, so Ellie becomes a tutor for him, teaching him about literature and art so he can converse more intelligently with the well rounded Aster. 

In the process, Ellie and Paul also become close to one another as they get to know not just each other but also each other’s families better. 

But if you think that it’s Paul and Ellie who’d end up eventually in each other’s arms, well, sorry, folks, but you see, Ellie is a closet lesbian and is actually also in love with Aster. 

Aster invites her one day for a drive and takes her to a hot spring where they get to open up to each other. 

Aster confides to Ellie that she’s not really in love with Trig, but he’s a really good catch and he has serious intentions of marrying her, so she’s willing to walk down the aisle with him.

The narrative is beautifully developed and the script is very witty and smart. All the knots are untied in a church service where Aster’s dad is the pastor and where Trig formally proposes to Aster in front of everyone. 

Ellie and Paul both disrupt the proposal to voice their own feelings about Aster and this is where Aster realizes that it’s Ellie all along who’s writing the letters and text messages from Paul. 

The film ends with Ellie going off to college in another state to start her new journey after her coming of age as a high school student. The film works primarily because Leah Lewis is so good and convincing as the introverted Ellie. 

She narrates the story and we also love her beautiful speaking voice. You will totally root for her all throughout the film. 

But even Paul and Aster are very endearing characters and if viewers have no investment in their experiences, the story will just become one-dimensional. 

It’s great that writer-director Wu succeeds in fleshing out all the three major characters and the young actors who play them are all very appealing even when they wax rhapsodic over the “repressed longing” in the acclaimed novel “The Remains of the Day”. 

This is what makes the film so easy to love and appreciate. 

There are no real villains here, except for the racist guys who make fun of Ellie and ruined the piano when she is about to perform with it in a school concert.  

But they are quickly shamed when Ellie then accompanies herself on the guitar and gets hearty applause from the audience. 

The premise of a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac narrative with a new spin and given an LGBT twist is really cute and clever, making it a cut above the usual high school teen romance. 

It is also executed with unexpected pleasures, among which is the well delineated journey of self acceptance by the charming young lesbian immigrant who’s at the center of the story. 

Director Alice Wu is an outed lesbian and her first movie, “Saving Face”, is also about a young lesbian coming out. 

“The Half of It” is not your usual boy-meets-girl romcom but also a compassionate story of growing up, unrequited love and a unique triangle between a boy, a girl, and another girl who happens to be lesbian. 

The movie’s title is “The Half of It” and as Ellie says in the voice over narration at the beginning, “This isn’t a love story where everyone gets what they want.” 

We think the title doesn’t just refer to finding your other or better half, but also about finding the real other part of yourself and accepting it, which Leah eventually did.