The Half of It
By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Touching, smart teen story deals with sexuality; drinking.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Explores complexities of relationships (friends, lovers, families) from a teen/young adult perspective with insightful results. Promotes honesty, empathy, respect for differences. Includes some conversation about God, beliefs, values.
Positive Role Models
Multilayered main character is wise, accomplished, responsible, and humble. She develops confidence, compassion, and joyfulness. To earn extra money (out of necessity, not greed), Ellie secretly writes school papers for other kids. Characters defy stereotypes: A dim "oaf" proves to be insightful and ambitious; a popular teen beauty has depth and artistic gifts. Adults (parents, teachers) are all responsible and caring.
Thanks to a filmmaker, main character, and love interest who are all women, the film definitely tells its story with a female perspective. Written and directed by Alice Wu (her first film since the groundbreaking Chinese American lesbian romance Saving Face in 2004), the movie has a queer Chinese American protagonist. Ellie lives with her immigrant father in a rural, majority-White town. Love interest Aster Flores is Latina; her religious family briefly speaks Spanish in the home, but their cultural identity is never specified. Rather than pin down Ellie and Aster -- who share romantic attraction -- as lesbian or bisexual, Wu gracefully avoids labels in favor of giving the film's young leads the space to sort through gender and sexuality for themselves.
Inclusion information: Latinx actors
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Violence & Scariness
A slap, a hit, a fall from bike with no injury.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kisses between two teen girls and between a girl and a boy.
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Occasional cursing: "hell," "damn," "crap," "s--t." Peeing is mentioned.
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Products & Purchases
Yakult probiotic drink, Dr. Pepper.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens drink alcohol at a celebratory party. Main character drinks too much, vomits, takes two aspirin the next morning.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Half of It is a teen romcom with wry humor and serious themes set in a small-town high school in the Pacific Northwest. It centers on Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a bright teen who writes a letter on behalf of a smitten but not very articulate boy to the girl of his dreams. Complicating matters is the fact that Ellie has her own crush on the same dream girl. Teen couples kiss, a potential relationship emerges, and conversations about sexuality take place. At a high school party with underage drinking, Ellie drinks too much and then vomits. The next morning, when she wakes up with a hangover, she takes two pills (presumed to be aspirin). Expect a bit of mild cursing like "crap," "damn," "s--t," and "hell." A teen falls from her bike, and someone is slapped. There's some talk about God, beliefs, and values, as well as positive cultural exchanges between White and Taiwanese characters. With its sly comedy and shrewd take on relevant issues, the movie should appeal to teens and their families.
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The Half of It
Based on 10 parent reviews
Very good movie with common problematic sexual assault trope
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Sweet, touching movie
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What's the Story?
Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is bright, perceptive, and pretty much on her own in THE HALF OF IT. Her small-town high school has its share of jocks, cool kids, nerds, and artsy types, but Ellie doesn't hang with any group. She feels isolated and responsible for her dad. A widowed Chinese immigrant with a Ph.D., Dr. Chu (Collin Chou) struggles to move on after his wife's death and is barely earning a living as a train switch operator. To earn extra money, Ellie secretly writes school papers for other kids. Enter Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer). "Munsky" is aware of Ellie's writing enterprise and approaches her: He'll give her $50 if Ellie will write one letter in his name to Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), the popular girl he's in love with from afar. Reluctantly, Ellie agrees. What makes the prospect so hard, however, is that though she's never acknowledged it to others, Ellie is definitely attracted to Aster, too. Complications ensue and what begins as a one-time, money-making proposition becomes a poignant and funny adventure in growing up for Ellie, Paul, and Aster.
Is It Any Good?
Exploring friendship, love, and sexuality, as well as the hardships of feeling ostracized as a Chinese immigrant family living in a small, predominantly White community. This film is executed with integrity and heart and star Lewis never misses a beat. Her sincerity, comic timing, and seeming effortlessness in bringing Ellie Chu to life are a joy to watch. She's supported by an excellent cast. Writer-director Alice Wu has guided The Half of It players with a delicate touch. The movie is both laugh-out-loud funny and insightful. The few missteps -- an awkward climax in church that's not in keeping with the authenticity of the rest of the film and some geographically "convenient" moments -- don't detract from the impact of the movie's inherent glow. In the ever expanding list of Netflix romcoms for teens, this one rises to the top. Highly recommended.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how The Half of It portrays teen drinking. Were you surprised that Ellie joined in? What were the consequences of her behavior? Why is it a good idea for families with older kids and teens to discuss drinking and substance abuse in movies?
Labels are never used in describing the teen characters' relationships and attractions. How does this reflect a positive relationship with gender and sexuality? Can you think of ways in which labels might be helpful as young adults start to navigate love and romance?
The movie asks, "If love isn't the effort you put in, then what is it?" What do you think this means? Give some examples from your experience that might confirm the notion.
How did the small-town Washington State setting contribute to the story? In what ways did it define the characters and their expectations? What made the movie very "Northwest" in its look and feel?
Why are movies and books based on Cyrano de Bergerac so popular? Can you think of some other examples?
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2020
- Cast: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire
- Director: Alice Wu
- Inclusion Information: Latinx actors
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief language and teen drinking
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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