In life, there are many relationships that a person can come across. You have your family, your teachers, romantic partners and friends, plus a lot of other bonds that form for whatever reason over the years. Typically with relationships, when you think of heartbreak, your immediate reaction would be to correlate that feeling in the romantic sense—but it actually doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes the most meaningful and heart-wrenching relationships can come from a strong platonic bond, those people who helped form who you are, and even though there are no intimate intentions, the ‘break-up’ from a best friend can cut just as deep as it would with a love.
That notion is just one of the themes explored in Alice Wu’s latest feature film ‘The Half of It,’ premiering this Friday, May 1, on Netflix. Wu isn’t new to the writing/directing game having penned and directed the 2004 romantic comedy ‘Saving Face,’ although ‘The Half of It’ is a bit of a different type of story.
“Nothing in ‘The Half of It’ has actually occurred in my own life,” says Wu. “I was trying to explore an emotion. I think all of us have had relationships, whether they’re romantic or not, where there’s been heartbreak, but it’s particularly confusing if it’s not considered conventionally romantic because no one quite knows how to understand that level of heartbreak. Thinking about exploring that led me to a larger question just about the nature of love and how there are so many different types. Just trying and figuring out what the heck is this friendship where there’s no sexual attraction, but there’s love—what is that?”
‘The Half of It’ follows Ellie (Leah Lewis), a 17-year-old Chinese American immigrant who is coming to terms with her sexuality as well as trying to navigate the complicated world of high school. Ellie ends up connecting with Paul (Daniel Demier), a sweet but slightly dim jock who needs help wooing a girl, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), who subsequently has also caught Ellie’s eye. Throughout the film, Ellie and Paul’s bond grows but not in the typical boy meets girl, boy gets girl sort of format.
“I love the movie ‘Jerry Maguire,’ and I think that we’re all looking for that person who completes us, right? So I wanted to write about that, but what if that’s actually the false journey? On some level, what if the point isn’t to find someone to complete us, what if the point is on the way there you meet lots of different kinds of people and some of those people help form who you are?” adds Wu.
Someone probably important once said ‘Write what you know,’ and although Wu did loosely gain some inspiration from her own life, the film is fictional and that is an important point for the writer.
“I love writing fiction because in fiction, I feel like I’m able to show more truth in a way. If I was just to write out all of the facts, there’s a way that it becomes limiting,” says Wu. “When you’re writing any form of fiction, for me, I want to write a story that feels emotionally true. I make up all of the sort of details around that, but in the end, I see the emotions underneath it, and through the journey I understand something about myself. Hopefully, when someone’s watching the film, they feel something on their end where it connects them to relationships in their own life.”
Ellie in the film definitely explores different relationships that can be deemed familiar to audiences. Maybe through an unlikely friendship you formed with someone, maybe through a relationship with your first crush which can be scary but invigorating, or maybe through your own relationship with a parent and how it can be complicated in its own unique way—there are many points of connection in ‘The Half of It.’ Setting the story in high school only helps make that abundantly clear.
“I’m writing about characters who could not be more different. They all belong to their own social cliques and those cliques would never [typically] collide. High school is a great place where you can show a bunch of people who otherwise would never interact in the real world in one geographical location, which allows for the possibility of those things to come together,” says Wu. “In a million years, Ellie would never pick Paul as that friend, but at the end of the movie, of all things, this inarticulate jock ends up being the person who really helps her understand something about herself. With ‘The Half of It,’ I’m basically trying to write about that person or those people who in a million years you would never think would make a difference in your life and somehow turns out to be the exact person who helps you grow to the next level.”
‘The Half of It’ opens audiences up to a very detailed world—that was certainly intentional on Wu’s end. It’s not exactly a story that draws the road map to tell you how to feel, instead it pushes you to explore your own experiences and hopefully relate to them as human beings in general.
“I wrote this with the hopes that maybe someone in a rural town or somewhere in the heartlands who normally would never watch a film like this ends up watching it, and it makes them think about that one kid in school or that one immigrant family because for whatever reason in every tiny town there is that one immigrant family. If I could get a 50-year-old straight white conservative guy to relate to a 17-year-old Chinese American immigrant, possibly closeted, or maybe even relate to her depressed father who’s lost his wife and feel that ‘I don’t know how to talk to my daughter either but I love her’ emotion—anytime you do that, you increase the human capacity for empathy and any time you do that, you’ve won.”
‘The Half of It’ drops on Netflix May 1.