Netflix’s “The Half Of It” Finally Does a Decent Job at Queer Representation

Over quarantine, Netflix finally released the long-awaited The Half of It, which had gotten lots of attention on social media because it was about a sapphic (WLW) romance directed and written by a queer Asian woman herself, Alice Wu. Personally, I was really excited about a new gay indie film, especially ones not centered around only white leads. The main character, Ellie, is a Chinese-American living with her dad in the small town of Squahamish. She’s a genius, but she gets bullied for it a lot; as a side job, she gets paid to write other students’ essays. She gets approached by a classmate, Paul, who asks her if she could write love poems to his crush, Aster, a popular girl at school. Ellie eventually agrees to do it (for money, of course), but after a while of her helping Paul, she ends up falling for Aster, too. Meanwhile, not much can even come out of it because Aster has a boyfriend. 

The thing is, the whole movie barely focuses on this growing romance between Ellie and Aster. If anything, it places a larger focus on Ellie herself, as an Asian-American young woman who helps her father in paying the house bills by taking over his job as a stationmaster. She is also an amazing musician, but her shyness keeps her from sharing it with anyone. She’s an inspiring human being that I oftentimes found relatable as she struggled to come to terms with her sexuality in a small, conservative town. 

The reason why I say Netflix handled this movie well is because of three reasons.

  1. 1. The movie does not focus on sexuality as the main storyline.

    This movie does not make queerness the topic of every conversation and is not branded as strictly LGBTQ (at least, to me. Netflix’s website says otherwise). It has no uncomfortable age-gap or forced gay characters. It feels so real. We don’t have many movies that follow a storyline outside of the queer coming-of-age plot. Why is it so important that we have movies that just aren’t about being gay? Well, how many movies have you seen that are about being straight? Probably not many. It’s time to move on from the LGBTQ Romance section on Netflix like we’re just another genre, like Comedy or Horror. Gay people are normal people and shouldn’t be shoved into another genre tab. We should get normal romance movies that flow as easily as heterosexual romance movies do, where the characters have a personality past their queerness. This movie was a wonderful first step in that direction. The movie isn’t about Ellie trying to get the girl or Ellie’s emotional turmoil about liking girls. It is about her growing up and growing out of her shell with the help of Paul and by getting to know Astrid, as well.

  2. 2. The characters have a personality outside of their queerness.

    We learn so much about Ellie through her blooming friendship with Paul and through her home life. As for Aster, she’s a religious Latina, which influences a lot of her decisions in the movie. These outside forces give these characters so much depth and explain much of their actions and thought processes in the movie. We learn so much about Ellie in this movie, from her family history to her goals and aspirations. Her mother died when she was young, and she lives alone in the poorer side of town with her father. He’s depressed and struggles to pay the bills, which Ellie has to step in for. She’s so incredibly selfless throughout this entire movie and it gives her so much depth. She’s also musically talented, but her shyness gets in the way of that. Another example is Aster, who lives with a strict father. He plans on her marrying her current boyfriend and growing up in Squahamish for the rest of her life. She feels trapped but she doesn’t have the courage to stand up for herself. She wants to leave to go to art school, and by the end of the movie, she, too, has finally gained the confidence to apply and start the life she wants to lead.

  3. 3. The third reason? (spoiler alert): Astrid and Ellie do not end up together.

    Almost every single queer movie has a happy ending, where they’re accepted for who they are and live happily ever after with their significant other. This is not that movie and it makes it so much realer. Directors like to give queer couples either happy endings or total angst (Love, Simon vs. Portrait of a Lady on Fire) without leaving much else, either to prove even queer couples can be happy or to show they’re doomed from the start. The Half of It does neither; instead, it ends realistically, which may be harder to accept than even the common angst-y trope. Listen--we do not figure ourselves out by the time high school ends. Sometimes, we simply do not have the courage to come out that early. It's scarier than you think. Ellie manages to move out of her small town for an amazing university and Aster plans on leaving for art school soon. They kiss in the last scene, for the only time in the movie, and that’s it. They accept that what they had was simply not going to happen during high school, and that’s okay. This was so important for me, and I think for many other girls in high school, to see. High school does not last forever. Who we are in high school does not define who we are in general. The director knew this and it’s honestly so refreshing. 

Please give this movie a watch; it really is beautiful and might even have you crying by the end, like me. Hopefully, Netflix continues to put out good movies like The Half of It.

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