A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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 dream girl. Both same- and opposite-sex couples kiss, a potential same-sex relationship emerges, and there are conversations about sexuality. One scene takes 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. With its sly comedy and shrewd take on relevant issues, the movie should appeal to most teens and their families.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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 studies hard and feels very responsible for her dad. A widowed Chinese immigrant with a PhD, Mr. Chu (Collin Chou) speaks almost no English, and is barely earning a living. He and Ellie live above the train station he operates. 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: $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, Ellie is definitely attracted to Aster. So, complications ensue, and what begins as a one-time, money-making proposition becomes a poignant and funny adventure in growing up for Ellie, and for Paul and Aster, too.
Is it any good?
Exploring friendship, love, and sexuality, as well as the hardships of a Chinese family's integration in the U.S., this film is executed with integrity and heart. Lead actor Leah Lewis never misses a beat. Her sincerity, comic timing, and seeming effortlessness in bringing Ellie Chu to life is 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 laugh-out-loud funny, literate, and insightful all at once. 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?
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
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief language and teen drinking
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: May 16, 2020
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