The Half of It / The Asian Representation in a Teenage Movie I’ve Been Waiting For

A Film Review from your Average Jane Doe

As the title of this series suggests, I am not a certified film critic or film student. I’m just a teenager that watches movies occasionally when I’m not knee-deep in YouTube. Is that my preferred choice of video content consumption now? Because that’s a weird thing to think about. Anyways, I recently watched The Half of It, and wanted to write down my thoughts about the movie, so here it is. Also, spoilers, obviously, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This movie is the Asian representation in a teenage coming-of-age movie in mainstream media that I have been waiting for.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I kind of brushed it off as a typical Netflix teen rom-com that I only half-paid attention to because all I could think about was To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. But I was pretty much all wrong.

The Half of It follows a Chinese teenager, Ellie Chu, as she gets wrapped up in Paul’s crush on Aster Flores by helping him write love letters and text messages for Aster, a girl that Ellie’s in love with.

As I was watching, it was hard not to compare it to To All the Boys. And I constantly found myself doing so because in the US, that is the current epitome of teenage coming of age with an Asian female lead. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy watching that movie and all of the Asian representation and awareness that followed, but the overly saturated, wide-eyed rich girl living in normal teenage drama feeling never rubbed me the right way. Of course, as all film reviews are, this is all my opinion and personally I prefer the indie style of movies when it comes to coming-of-age, and The Half of It gave me just that.

It was sweet, it was funny, it was intelligent in a way that I feel like I’m missing in teen movies. Sure, there was some stereotyping, but the way that the dialogue pulled at my heartstrings made it worthwhile. I loved the literary motifs and the existentialism that they talked about. Overall, big props to Alice Wu, the director and writer, on the screenwriting of this movie. 

This movie had me stressed in the best way possible as I tried to figure out who was going to end up with who before the end of it. And I think the good thing about The Half of It is that it didn’t have a clear ending or the perfect fairytale kiss and relationship to end it out. Ellie and Aster didn’t get together forever. Ellie moved away for college, while still unsure of who she is. Paul didn’t get the girl, but his friendship with Ellie was so wholesome without too much pressure from his unresolved feelings. Aster also needed the time to figure out her identity, and it was okay that she didn’t have it all figured out, even though everyone saw her as just the pretty girl. After I watched it, I was reminded of the depth of reading a novel in English class because of how many unknowns there were about the storyline for the viewer to dissect and analyze.

I also loved this movie as a great starting point for good queer representation in mainstream Asian American characters. Technically, Ellie was not born in the US, but she had grown up in Washington state and was familiar with the culture. Seeing a well written Asian American female being able to explore her sexuality was so refreshing from the becoming-Netflix-typical closeted white gay kid or the side friend who’s only personality triat is that they’re gay too. I admired this movie for that reason. There’s a lot of taboo in Asian American culture with queerness and mental health, and to see a decently-healthy way of approaching that side of people’s life was great. Granted, the immediate acceptance of Paul or the stereotypical Christian families in the movie are not the reality in a lot of places, but it was a good eye-opener nonetheless.

One little gripe about this movie that I didn’t get when I watched it was the setting. The movie takes place in a fictional town called Squahamish in Washington state. Though the characters reference actual towns in Washington, the geography and distance between the towns was a little odd coming from someone that lives in Washington. Of course, if you don’t live here it wasn’t a big deal, and it doesn’t relate to the plot all that much, but I noticed it merely on the fact that I live here. And while this movie was actually filmed in New York, the towns in Washington definitely look just like that anyway. Also, a movie based in Washington that’s not about vampires and werewolves? Count me in.

On the flip side, the setting depicts a typical mostly white and Christian town that doesn’t leave room for another personality other than that. Ellie and her father are immigrants and their lifestyles are hindered by the fact that her father cannot speak English that well, leaving her to feel stuck in Squahamish. Ellie feeling tied down to help her father felt so sincere and heartbreaking to see her have to leave him behind to go to college, but her father wants the best for her and let her leave.

So, with all of that, I give The Half of It 9 out of 10 stars.

Thanks for reading my first published movie review. Still definitely not a person with any jurisdiction to tell people what’s right and wrong with a movie, but these were just my opinions after the first viewing of the movie. (Also, I’m weirdly proud of the name of this hopefully soon-to-be movie review series lol)