The Half of It (Netflix) might not be perfect, but it’s a warm and inclusive rom-com that deserves to be seen for its young cast alone.
This review of The Half of It (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
The high-school comedy, or the coming-of-age drama, or the teen rom-com, or some combination of the three, is becoming a weekly fixture on Netflix. Versions of the same increasingly tired formula are being collected from all around the world, serving a teenage market reliably but not always capably, and generally underserving the slice of that market who identify as LGBTQ+. The Half of It, new today, seems like something of a remedy to that – an undeniably but not tokenistically progressive affair from writer-director Alice Wu about a queer love triangle in the small, simple town of Squahamish.
Focusing largely on Chinese-American teen Ellie (Leah Lewis), who is enlisted by jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) to pen a love letter to his crush, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), at first blush The Half of It seems as though it’s heading for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before territory. But it quickly swerves into more novel, inclusive climes as it becomes increasingly obvious that Ellie is more interested in Aster than perhaps even Paul is, and the film smartly hones in on this central dynamic across perhaps a slightly too-long runtime. While Wu avoids muddying the waters with a checklist of genre clichés and admirably steers clear of slapstick and faff, the mechanics are reminiscent of other Netflix rom-coms like Sierra Burgess is a Loser and keep The Half of It hemmed into a recognizable template that it might have benefitted from subverting a bit more often.
The desire of queer teens for same-sex relationships to be as normalized in media as straight ones is understandable, though since those relationships are more emotionally and culturally complicated, films depicting them require a degree of sensitivity and respect that doesn’t always come easily to mainstream productions. (Love, Simon remains, I think, the high-water mark for visible on-screen queer romances.) The Half of It gets this, and is deft with its unpacking of queer attraction in young people, even if it arguably allows that messiness to infiltrate its climax in a way that feels too scattershot and abrupt for its own good.
It’s this grounded tone and confident, lived-in energy, though, that keep Wu’s film ticking along, although I’d be remiss not to mention the chemistry shared between the central trio of young actors who all make an impressive case for themselves here. Even when the script occasionally threatens to resort to cliché or stock archetypes, the nuance in their performances does the heavy lifting. The Half of It is a warm, earnest addition to a bustling sub-category on Netflix, and I hope it finds a decently-sized audience this weekend.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.