Wu’s Cyrano is the bookish Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), navigating the casual racism of her small town while also managing the expectations of the peers who pay her to write their essays. Her way with words makes her the ideal choice to ghostwrite letters for the cute-but-daft football player Paul (Daniel Diemer) to the object of his affection, Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Having yearned for Aster from afar, Ellie jumps at the chance to perform literary drag.
Wu’s feature debut, “Saving Face” (2005), was one of the rare films to focus on the queer Asian-American experience. Now, “The Half of It” reflects sharpened ideas and a honed directorial voice. While the question of “fitting in” has clichéd implications in many teen movies, Wu digs deeper, considering the lonely cost of assimilation for a girl whose outsider status is layered.
The husky-voiced Lewis embodies, with palpable anguish, the stinging contradictions of emotional freedom and romantic fraudulence that abound when writing these notes. In letters (or over text), you can be anybody and yourself at once, and Wu suffuses the film with a painfully mature understanding of the ache of longing for the impossible. With tenderness, humor and beauty, “The Half of It” comprehends the chasm between wanting and being.
The Half of It
Rated PG-13 for brief language, teen drinking and the delicate throb of unrequited love. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. Watch on Netflix.