Two years ago, I seemed to be on the wrong side of the tracks when discussing Netflix’s bubblegum teen movie To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Everyone threw their arms around it, except for me who thought teenagers deserved a smarter movie. Excuse my déjà vu as I find myself in the same dilemma. The reviews are in for Netflix’s latest fluffy flick The Half of It and people find it endearing, except for me who still believes teenagers are worthy of better films.
Taking place in high school, the film is centred around a developing love triangle between bookworm Ellie (Leah Lewis), amateur jock Paul (Daniel Diemer), and popular girl Aster (Alexis Lemire). Paul is infatuated with Aster, and hires Ellie to write a love letter to his crush. Ellie, who runs a homework business for her cheating peers, is initially apprehensive, but begrudgingly warms up to the idea when she’s reminded of how strapped for cash she is. This dynamic creates a modernized retelling of the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, and the results are cute at first. While there are logic flaws with writer/director Alice Wu’s movie as well as issues with the script getting too wrapped up in its own poetry, the most unforgivable problem with The Half of It is the all-around lack of chemistry.
The three main performances all seem to be starring in different movies. Diemer plays Paul as such an oaf that he hints that the character not only needs help with his writing, but he also needs someone to make most of his decisions for him. An affable connection is supposed to gradually bloom between him and Ellie (before it’s mistaken for something more), but the gap between them is never bridged. Instead, Ellie’s generosity is tainted because Lewis’ meek acting is a closed door for her fellow actors. Her accessibility becomes more complicated as Ellie becomes more interested in Aster over the course of the letter writing, shutting Paul out altogether. Meanwhile, the hoops Lemire is asked to jump through to portray Aster’s angst are fairly flimsy, and Alice Wu ignores potential animosity Aster may have towards her family and thickheaded boyfriend Trig (Wolfgang Novogratz). When Aster and Ellie are left alone, what follows is a farfetched reach for both of these characters. It’s a turning point that could be possible, but it’s too rushed for these women who have just met.
The reality surrounding the characters in The Half of It is unbelievable, which is a shame when the primary theme about embracing conflicted emotions could be relatable and so useful for young viewers. It certainly doesn’t help that Wu goes overboard to drive home a point, even if that point is an innocuous detail (the high school celebrates Paul’s touchdown because it’s the first time in fifteen years that the team has scored on any opponent); devolving the film from flaky nonsense to dumb malarky.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie