Someone at Netflix loves greenlighting modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac retellings at Netflix. It backfired with Ian Samuels’ SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER (2018), where the titular character catfishes. There is little difference with writer/director Alice Wu’s THE HALF OF IT (2020). However, it remains to be seen whether audiences will tag it as a catfishing film or the new LGBT Cyrano de Bergerac.
The film stars Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) as a high schooler who writes school papers for students for money. Normally, a high schooler could get failed for this behavior. In the film’s universe, Ellie’s teacher is too lazy to do anything about it, and gives her a nod and a wink that it’s okay. Wu also provides Ellie with a situation where she needs fifty dollars to pay an electric bill for her dad. This somehow justifies her to accept an offer from a fellow student, Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), who wants her to write a love letter to his crush, Aster (Alexxis Lemire). The problem is that Ellie also has a secret crush on Aster as well.
Somehow, Paul has already written a letter to Aster that he gives to Ellie to proofread. His words are supposed to be all wrong, but it ends up being the funniest part in the movie. This is where the faults in the script really start to show. The conflict of interest is too great: Ellie has a thing for Aster, so she discourages Paul to meet up with Aster right away, which is the only thing that he wants. By the time they have a date, Paul and Aster clearly have nothing in common but she keeps wanting to see him. Paul and Ellie also develop a close friendship; the first time I watched the film, it seemed to me that something was developing between them. Ellie eventually describes what she likes about Aster to Paul and it is too on the nose. He has the realization that Ellie is falling for Aster, but the way the scene is staged is really obvious. Aster and Ellie are also not really right for each other. Aster is a pretty church girl and Ellie is a nerdy atheist.
There were also several times that Ellie snuck hidden messages to Aster, but they were supposed to be from Paul. Aster never mentioned these things to Paul there was no hiccup or Aster finding out that these messages were from someone else.
A lot of things were underdeveloped including a MEAN GIRLS (2004) subplot involving Aster being accepted into a clique, the talent show (Ellie is shown signing up for it and performing in it and nothing in between), a random character named Trig (Wolfgang Novogratz) who Aster thinks she likes but he thinks Ellie likes her. However, if it was supposed to be a love triangle, there is no misunderstanding or jealousy between the girls. Trig seemed to be there for comedic effect, but his presence always felt weird. Trig also looks so much like Paul that it may be confusing for some people.
The film often seemed unwieldy. When Paul came to the realization that Ellie was gay, he entered a search on his laptop which his mother discovered. For a brief moment, it seemed that Paul’s mother seemed to think that he was gay. However, that was also not explored either. I think it’s great that Netflix took a chance on a film directed by a woman from the LGBT community. However, I find it impossible to get past the messy script. I was very harsh with my rating of THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), because a smart, grown man (Aaron Sorkin) wrote witty dialogue for characters that were hapless college bros. Sophomoric dudes didn’t talk with such sophistication. And in THE HALF OF IT, the high schoolers study Sartre or Camus, while still being unable to halfway express themselves. I loved Ellie’s introspective voiceover throughout the film. However, besides exploring a girl on girl crush, the film didn’t have much to offer. Like life, it didn’t have a fixed ending. However, this is a Netflix movie. Answers and closure would be nice.