The Half of It
Director: Alice Wu
Cast: Leah Lewis, Alexxis Lemire, Daniel Diemer
Alice Wu's The Half of It is a sweet love story, though not in the conventional sense of the term, about three high school students in a small American town. It is breezy, sometimes a bit too much, and adorable that conveys an old-world innocence, hard to come across today, when romantic love has heavy strings attached. I was reminded of the old classics like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women and so on -- in which men and women fell in love unmindful of anything!
Wu first made Saving Face as a film meant to bring herself out of the closet. Released in 2005, Saving Face was inspired by her own experiences coming out as a lesbian in the conservative Chinese-American community – a sexual preference that led to a rift with her mother.
She had then said that she would like the audience to come away from it "with this feeling that, no matter who they are, whether they are gay or straight, or whatever their cultural make-up is, that if there is something that they secretly wanted, whether it's this feeling that they could actually have that great love or whatever it is, that it's never too late to have that. I want them to leave the theatre feeling a sense of hope and possibility."
In The Half of It, Chinese-American Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is not very different. Living with her father in a little town, where he is the station master with his daughter doing most of his work, including flagging off trains, Ellie is in the beginning the butt of jokes at her school. But later, she gets noticed in a positive sort of way when Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), a school jock, asks Ellie to write his love letter (for $ 50 each) to his heartthrob, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemiere), daughter of the local pastor.
Thus starts an avalanche of hidden desires and discoveries. Long hidden passions come to play and twists abound. But Wu does not let all this trip over into exaggerations. She has her script well under control, and draws subtle, but sweetly innocent, performances from her actors. What is equally interesting is the way she peppers her narrative with Camus, Plato and Sartre. And not just this, we often see Ellie's father sprawled on his living room sofa watching Casablanca and Charlie Chaplin. Wow, this takes us to another age, I would think, and yes, I did not see any mobile phones. Obviously, the movie is set in another era when teenagers missed and messed, risked and raced – eventually to find their own peace and joy.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)
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