The new Netflix film The Half of It is now streaming on Netflix! The drama, which stars Leah Lewis gives a fresh new take on soulmates, friendships, and what happy endings should be.
Directed by Alice Wu, The Half of It follows smart senior high school student Ellie Chu who makes a living writing essays and papers for her classmates. Things take a turn for her when the school jock Paul Munsky asked her to help him write a love letter for his crush Aster Flores. The only problem? Ellie also crushes on Aster.
The film is led by Leah Lewis who plays Ellie Chu, and she is joined by Daniel Diemer, and Alexxis Lemire, who play Paul Munsky and Aster Flores, respectively.
We got to chat with director Alice Wu and Leah Lewis last week in a video conference where they told us more about the inspirations and the message of the film. Check out the highlights below:
On the story of the film
The Half of It wasn’t supposed to be a teen drama. According to Wu, the film was initially a story of 2 best friends – a lesbian and a straight guy – both in their 20s who are trying to understand love, without understanding their connections with each other.
The story felt unwieldy to her, though , and so she decided to set the story in high school, where everything is a first and intense for everyone. “Only in high school is everything heightened, every feeling the first, and therefore [the] only time you will feel this feeling,” she shared in the director’s notes.
Asked about what her favorite scene is from the film is, Wu answers that the scene at the hot springs where Ellie and Aster are taking off a layer of clothing will probably resonate with the audience. Wu sees the scene as an “unmasking” for the characters as they try to reveal parts of themselves that they’ve hidden. “They’re taking off the layer of clothing, right?” Wu said. “There’s just such an honesty in this conversation between these two young women and it’s not really sexual. There’s clearly a lot of intrigue there, but it’s also very intimate.”
The Half of It starts with an animation retelling of Plato’s Symposium, where humans are said to spend their entire lives looking for their other halves – their soulmates. However, it ends with a scene that gives the audience a new take on what a “happy ending” is. Wu wanted to show that it’s not always about who ends up with who, but about people that these characters have met along the way.
The same goes for Leah Lewis, who, when asked if she would rather have a different ending for Ellie, says she’d rather keep the same ending for their characters. “One of the most important messages of this film [is] that happy endings aren’t always about guy-gets-girl or girl-gets-girl. Happy endings are about finding yourself and being content with yourself and finding friends along the way, finding your way back to your family. It’s about the journey. I feel like Ellie walked away from this with such a huge, better sense of self,” she said.
On casting the stars for The Half of It
The film is already unique on its own, but what made it more special is the cast of up and coming actors that gave life to Ellie, Paul, and Aster.
Wu shared that for The Half of It, she was looking for fresh new faces as she wanted people to believe that these people exist in real life. It was all thanks to luck that she found Leah among the 600 talents that read for the role. To her, Leah’s charisma and confidence were what made her perfect to take on the role of Ellie.
Recalling her casting for the film, Lewis told us that she thought Ellie’s character is quirky when she first read the script. She eventually learned that the character is the opposite of what she thought and Wu helped her slowly find Ellie in her through conversations and well-curated playlists that helped her get into character.
“[Alice] didn’t say this is what Ellie Chu is,” Lewis said. “We’re just having a conversation with each other, and sharing things about our lives. She was able to kind of help me draw the similarities of the quieter, observant, patient, internal parts of me, and helped me kind of naturally come to Ellie.”
On the portrayal of the queer community in film
Despite it centering on an Asian queer character, The Half of It strays away from the stories that other films of this subject usually have. For one, it doesn’t really show the internal and external struggles that a character usually faces.
Wu explained that she wanted to humanize her characters, and tell stories that “mimics her experiences in life”. “So often, our only narratives if we appear in a film [are] our struggles. It’s like, if you’re queer, you’re struggling. My life is not 90% struggles, you know? I’m very aware that other people tell beautiful stories about the struggle, and I think that’s important. I just happened to do it from a different angle,” She stated.
As for Lewis, she hoped that through the film, more members of the LGBT community can know that they are seen and heard. “It’s a very, very personal and sensitive thing [to be] LGBTQ. I know that a lot of people out there struggle with finding their voice, so I hope that people walk away from this film, feeling like their stories are being heard,” she concluded.
The Half of It is now streaming on Netflix.