So much of the success of a movie relates to how well the audience likes the characters. Plot holes, wild circumstances and non-sensical acts can be forgiven if we relate to the people involved and come to share their hopes and dreams. The desire to see appealing characters find the happiness we cannot, may cause us to extend our suspension of disbelief past all sense of logic...and that's fine. Sometimes, we justify what we need despite our better judgement.
Such is the case with Alice Wu's The Half of It, a charming rom com that has its fair share of wishful thinking plot devices and an idyllic vision of high school that's hard to believe yet much to be desired. This update of Cyrano de Bergerac may rely a bit too much on teen comedy conventions and run along predictable lines, but the three leads are so darn likable, you just brush those concerns aside, sit back and enjoy seeing them strive to make their dreams a reality.
Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a bit of an oddball in the remote Oregon town of Squahamish where she and her father (Collin Chou) reside. Much smarter than her peers, she keeps to herself but has no problem taking money from fellow students in order to write their English essays for them. It's a nice cottage industry for her but she's thrown for a loop when Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) asks her to pen a love letter for him. The object of his affection is one Astor Flores (Alexxis Lemire) who is indeed quite beautiful, but more importantly, she's very kind. Feeling hemmed in by the lack of options Squahamish has to offer and the immature people in her social circle, she finds herself yearning to connect with someone, anyone who has more on their mind than getting drunk on Friday night. Ellie reluctantly decides to help Paul and begins to observe Astor so that she can learn what interests her, discover what her passions on. In doing so, she finds a kindred soul and while the letters she pens may bear Paul's name, they come directly from her heart.
It comes as no surprise that a love triangle develops between the three as Ellie soon falls for Astor as well. However, Half's most pleasant surprise is the relationship that develops between Ellie and Paul. Going full Pygmalion on him, she tries to turn him into the man Astor would not only be attracted to but deserves. In the process, which is very funny, she comes to see that he is far more sensitive than the average high school jock and that, much like her, he must deal with familial issues no teen should have to contend with. The bond that develops between them is genuinely poignant and proves to be a welcome wrinkle on the Cyrano premise.
The fact that Wu has her teen characters quoting Wim Winders' movies, reading The Remains of the Day and watching The Philadelphia Story is a pleasant conceit but hardly one with a basis in reality. These elements and others like them grate a bit but the good natured humor present during Astor and Paul's disastrous first date, a genuinely funny conversation between Paul and Ellie during a game of ping pong and the climactic scene in which all three confess their true feelings for each other in front of the congregation of the church where Astor's father is a pastor more than make up for any of the film's flights of fancy. Thanks to the great work from Lewis, Diemer and Lemire, we genuinely care about their characters, and that proves to be more than enough.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.