The Half Of It

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“Gravity is matter’s response to loneliness.”

The Half Of It, new on Netflix, is a delightful Rom-Com with a twist. Written and directed by Alice Wu, it stars Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) as a shy and lonely, straight-A high school senior, who is isolated in backwater Squahamish, WA. Living down by the railroad tracks, with her widowed signalman father, has earned her the derisive nickname Ellie Choo-Choo. Treated as a foreigner in the only place she has even known leads to her mercenary practice of penning their essays for cash, “Ten dollars for three pages.” “If you don’t get an A, then you don’t pay.” 

She is only a minor character, Ellie’s English teacher Mrs. Geselschap (Becky Ann Baker), but she steals every scene that she is in, as in this bit of dialogue, where she discloses to Ellie that she knows all about her paper writing business.

Mrs. Geselschap: Six different takes on Plato. Impressive.
Ellie Chu: Just the one.
Mrs. Geselschap: That’s what I tell the bartender.
Ellie Chu: How come you never turn me in?
Mrs. Geselschap: And have to read the actual essays they’d write?

She sees a spark in Ellie and tries to convince her to attend Grinnell College in the fall, where she too had graduated. Ellie will have none of it, explaining her intentions to remain in Squahamish, attend a local second rate institution and care for her father. This leads to an exchange between the two about the merits of Grinnell, Hell-quahamish and what constitues success in life that cuminates with Geselschap telling Ellie, “Everyone fears God in this town. But do you know who God fears? The Teachers’ Union.”

Enter Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), a school jock who asks for Ellie’s help in writing a love letter to fellow classmate Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). What evolves is a real Cyrano de Bergerac love triangle. Initially, she rejects his request, “Get a thesaurus. Use spell-check. Good luck, Romeo.” Eventually though they team up to win Aster’s heart. What begins with written letters, soon moves on to texting, allowing Ellie to in real time save Paul and Aster’s first and very nearly last date, “In love, one always starts by deceiving oneself, it ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.”

No love triangle can remain stable for long and this one eventually has its Jerry Springer moment that lays a hilarious Easter egg of sorts, but not before its two initial bonds are joined by others. Aster and Ellie share a conversation and a jump cut sequence where they collaborate on a graffiti wall mural. Aster tells Ellie that, “The difference between a good painting and a great painting is typically five strokes. And those strokes are usually the boldest strokes in the painting.” To which Ellie eventually responds with, “Love is being willing to ruin your good painting for the chance at a great one.” High school is a time in life that is full of great opportunity and to paraphrase Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks, great opportunity gives birth to great moments. This film is full of great moments and I hope you soon have the opportunity to enjoy it too. 

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