The Half of It (2020)

ALICE WU

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2020. . Screenplay by Alice Wu. Cinematography by . Produced by , , Alice Wu. Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

This heartfelt look at the lives of teenagers struggling to make their way to adulthood is blessed with a great deal of humour and warmth.  is superb as Ellie Chu, an isolated young woman living in a nowhere town in upstate New York who has taken over station master duties from her depressed, fully checked-out father.  She and her dad are the only Asian family in an all-white town and a number of her fellow students never fail to remind her of it, she is almost finished high school and hasn’t managed to make any friends.  She’s also an academic whiz and is happy to profit off it, writing essays for other students who give her money for her efforts.  Paul (), son of the local sausage factory fortune and football jock, asks her to write a love letter on his behalf to the girl he’s moony over and she balks at the offer, but finding herself in need of the cash decides to say yes.  He shells out the coins and she takes on the job of coaching him between his dates with the beautiful Aster (), plying him with reading lists, sharpening his powers of observations and carrying on full communication via text with the woman of Paul’s dreams.  What she’s not facing up to is the fact that she is hiding behind the job to communicate to Aster what is actually come from her own heart, something that she tries to ignore but becomes more painfully obvious as she grows sympathetic to this hopelessly sincere young man.  Director Alice Wu, returning to feature films for the first time since her 2004 comedy Saving Face, can’t find enough ways to show this tiny eastern hamlet at its most beautiful, for all the stifling boredom it gives our heroine it looks magical (provided you can ignore the handful of student bullies and a whole heap of intellectually stifled adults).  Wu shows a great deal of affection for her main characters and shares it with us, the relationships that develop between the leads are moving and poignant thanks to the fact that she is among the few filmmakers who makes mvoies about young people without actually hating them.  What she gets best, though, is the casting of the lead, Lewis is an instant star with her wickedly funny characterization of a young and lonely woman escaping a past trauma while always displaying a no-nonsense sarcasm that is always delightful.   Coming of age films should always be this satisfying.

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