The Half of It proves breaking down barriers doesn’t happen perfectly

The Netflix film’s execution isn’t without a few flaws, and that’s okay

The Half of It makes up for its imperfections with good representation.

Flawless storytelling and perfect writing isn’t where Netflix’s new film The Half of It draws its success. Its story carves a place for itself as a thoughtfully portrayed LGTBQ+ experience in the messy, dramatic, and sometimes clichéd world of coming-of-age movies.

The film follows Ellie Chu, a quiet, straight-A student who lives in the predominantly white and Christian fictional town of Squahamish, Washington. She befriends high school football player Paul Munsky while helping him write love letters to woo Aster Flores, who Ellie also has a crush on.

The beauty of The Half of It is that Ellie is gay, but that’s not what the movie hinges itself on. She doesn’t agonize about coming out, nor does she have to come to terms with her sexuality. That’s not to say Ellie lives in an idealized world where everyone is met with acceptance and respect—Squahamish is far from a place like that—but it’s refreshing to see a movie where a character’s sexuality isn’t the most important thing, or the only thing, we know about them.

However, in focusing on dismantling the heteronormative clichés often found in its coming-of-age predecessors, The Half of It leaves many tropes untouched.

Both Ellie and Paul spend most of the movie pining over Aster, a nice, pretty, popular peer with more depth than someone of her social status might be expected to have. 

Like too many teen film love-interests, Aster represents an idealized version of femininity that’s unrealistic and verging on trope-y: she’s pretty but demure, popular but not rich, intelligent but humble. Aster may read intellectual novels and care about foreign policy, but her otherwise shallow representation detracts from the romantic aspect of the movie. 

While The Half of It is filled with its own twists and turns, the hardest thing to wrap your head around is why two of the protagonists are obsessed with such a flimsy character.

The film also struggles to feel cohesive in its message and overarching themes. Despite being labelled a comedy-drama, The Half of It is too didactic, losing a lot of levity in its attempt to be intellectual. Not only is it hard to believe the characters are truly invested in analyzing the thematic elements of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit—a play I’m fairly sure has never been taught in a high school English class curriculum—it’s also an allusion potentially lost on a typical young audience. 

Although the few laughs we get throughout the movie are well-earned, being spoon-fed philosophical discourse about love isn’t entertaining. 

Despite its flaws, The Half of It finds its place among the other films in its genre. While it’s not ground-breaking in its execution, the film is an important divergence from the typically white, heteronormative romances Netflix regularly produces.

Instead of placing undue pressure on it to be perfect, it’s vital that we evaluate The Half of It like we would any other coming-of-age story. As an audience, it’s our responsibility to allow writers and directors the creative freedom to make the same storytelling mistakes as their straight white peers, without extra criticism. 

Is this movie perfect? Of course not—it doesn’t have to be.

In a Vulture profile about the movie, director Alice Wu said “someone literally wrote ‘I trust Alice Wu to give all of the gays everything they want […] I’m just like, ‘Oh my God, I can barely figure out how to give one gay some of what they want, let alone all the gays everything they want.” 

Wu undertook the difficult task of creating one of the few LGBTQ+ stories driving a mainstream coming-of-age film without erroneously making it seem like there is a single, universal gay experience. 

In that respect, she succeeded.


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